A sustained change in the supply of parental care causes adaptive evolution of offspring morphology.
ABSTRACT: Although cooperative social interactions within species are considered an important driver of evolutionary change, few studies have experimentally demonstrated that they cause adaptive evolution. Here we address this problem by studying the burying beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides. In this species, parents and larvae work together to obtain nourishment for larvae from the carrion breeding resource: parents feed larvae and larvae also self-feed. We established experimentally evolving populations in which we varied the assistance that parents provided for their offspring and investigated how offspring evolved in response. We show that in populations where parents predictably supplied more care, larval mandibles evolved to be smaller in relation to larval mass, and larvae were correspondingly less self-sufficient. Previous work has shown that antagonistic social interactions can generate escalating evolutionary arms races. Our study shows that cooperative interactions can yield the opposite evolutionary outcome: when one party invests more, the other evolves to invest less.
Project description:Classical models of evolution seldom predict the rate at which populations evolve in the wild. One explanation is that the social environment affects how traits change in response to natural selection. Here, we determine how social interactions between parents and offspring, and among larvae, influence the response to experimental selection on adult size. Our experiments focus on burying beetles (Nicrophorus vespilloides), whose larvae develop within a carrion nest. Some broods exclusively self-feed on the carrion while others are also fed by their parents. We found populations responded to selection for larger adults but only when parents cared for their offspring. We also found populations responded to selection for smaller adults too, but only by removing parents and causing larval interactions to exert more influence on eventual adult size. Comparative analyses revealed a similar pattern: evolutionary increases in species size within the genus Nicrophorus are associated with the obligate provision of care. Synthesising our results with previous studies, we suggest that cooperative social environments enhance the response to selection whereas excessive conflict can prevent further directional selection.
Project description:Sibling rivalry is commonplace within animal families, yet offspring can also work together to promote each other's fitness. Here we show that the extent of parental care can determine whether siblings evolve to compete or to cooperate. Our experiments focus on the burying beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides, which naturally provides variable levels of care to its larvae. We evolved replicate populations of burying beetles under two different regimes of parental care: Some populations were allowed to supply posthatching care to their young (Full Care), while others were not (No Care). After 22 generations of experimental evolution, we found that No Care larvae had evolved to be more cooperative, whereas Full Care larvae were more competitive. Greater levels of cooperation among larvae compensated for the fitness costs caused by parental absence, whereas parental care fully compensated for the fitness costs of sibling rivalry. We dissected the evolutionary mechanisms underlying these responses by measuring indirect genetic effects (IGEs) that occur when different sibling social environments induce the expression of more cooperative (or more competitive) behavior in focal larvae. We found that indirect genetic effects create a tipping point in the evolution of larval social behavior. Once the majority of offspring in a brood start to express cooperative (or competitive) behavior, they induce greater levels of cooperation (or competition) in their siblings. The resulting positive feedback loops rapidly lock larvae into evolving greater levels of cooperation in the absence of parental care and greater levels of rivalry when parents provide care.
Project description:Carrion beetles in the genus Nicrophorus rear their offspring on decomposing carcasses where larvae are exposed to a diverse community of decomposer bacteria. Parents coat the carcass with antimicrobial secretions prior to egg hatch (defined as prehatch care) and also feed regurgitated food, and potentially bacteria, to larvae throughout development (defined as full care). Here, we partition the roles of prehatch and posthatch parental care in the transmission and persistence of culturable symbiotic bacteria to larvae. Using three treatment groups (full care, prehatch care only, and no care), we found that larvae receiving full care are predominantly colonized by bacteria resident in the maternal gut while larvae receiving no care are colonized with bacteria from the carcass. More importantly, larvae receiving only prehatch care were also predominantly colonized by maternal bacteria; this result indicates that parental treatment of the carcass, including application of bacteria to the carcass surface, is sufficient to ensure symbiont transfer even in the absence of direct larval feeding. Later in development, we found striking evidence that pupae undergo an aposymbiotic stage, after which they are recolonized at eclosion with bacteria similar to those found on the molted larval cuticle and on the wall of the pupal chamber. Our results clarify the importance of prehatch parental care for symbiont transmission in Nicrophorus vespilloides and suggest that these bacteria successfully outcompete decomposer bacteria during larval and pupal gut colonization.IMPORTANCE Here, we examine the origin and persistence of the culturable gut microbiota of larvae in the burying beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides This insect is particularly interesting for this study because larvae are reared on decomposing vertebrate carcasses, where they are exposed to high densities of carrion-decomposing microbes. Larvae also receive extensive parental care in the form of carcass preservation and direct larval feeding. We find that parents transmit their gut bacteria to larvae both directly, through regurgitation, and indirectly via their effects on the carcass. In addition, we find that larvae become aposymbiotic during pupation but are recolonized apparently from bacteria shed onto the insect cuticle before adult eclosion. Our results highlight the diverse interactions between insect behavior and development on microbiota composition. They further suggest that competitive interactions mediate the bacterial composition of Nicrophorus larvae together with or apart from the influence of beetle immunity, suggesting that the bacterial communities of these insects may be highly coevolved with those of their host species.
Project description:The parents' phenotype, or the environment they create for their young, can have long-lasting effects on their offspring, with profound evolutionary consequences. Yet, virtually no work has considered how such parental effects might change the adaptive value of behavioural traits expressed by offspring upon reaching adulthood. To address this problem, we combined experiments on burying beetles (Nicrophorus vespilloides) with theoretical modelling and focussed on one adult behavioural trait in particular: the supply of parental care. We manipulated the early-life environment and measured the fitness payoffs associated with the supply of parental care when larvae reached maturity. We found that (1) adults that received low levels of care as larvae were less successful at raising larger broods and suffered greater mortality as a result: they were low-quality parents. Furthermore, (2) high-quality males that raised offspring with low-quality females subsequently suffered greater mortality than brothers of equivalent quality, which reared larvae with higher quality females. Our analyses identify three general ways in which parental effects can change the adaptive value of an adult behavioural trait: by influencing the associated fitness benefits and costs; by consequently changing the evolutionary outcome of social interactions; and by modifying the evolutionarily stable expression of behavioural traits that are themselves parental effects.
Project description:In animal families, parents are expected to adapt to their offspring's traits, and offspring, in turn, are expected to adapt to the environment circumscribed by their parents. However, whether such coevolutionary trajectories differ between closely related species is poorly understood. Here, we employ interspecific cross-fostering in three species of burying beetles, Nicrophorus orbicollis, Nicrophorus pustulatus and Nicrophorus vespilloides, to test for divergent co-adaptation among species with different degrees of offspring dependency on parental care, and to test whether they are able to discriminate against interspecific parasites. We found that offspring survival was always higher when offspring were reared by conspecific rather than heterospecific parents. In the case of N. orbicollis raising N. pustulatus, none of the larvae survived. Overall, these results indicate that parent and offspring traits have diverged between species, and that the differential survival of conspecific and heterospecific larvae is because of improper matching of co-adapted traits, or, in the case of N. orbicollis with larval N. pustulatus, because of selection on parents to recognize and destroy interspecific brood parasites. We suggest that burying beetles experiencing a high risk of brood parasitism have evolved direct recognition mechanisms that enable them to selectively kill larvae of potential brood parasites.
Project description:It is often assumed that there is a positive relationship between egg size and offspring fitness. However, recent studies have suggested that egg size has a greater effect on offspring fitness in low-quality environments than in high-quality environments. Such observations suggest that mothers may compensate for poor posthatching environments by increasing egg size. In this paper we test whether there is a limit on the extent to which increased egg size can compensate for the removal of posthatching parental care in the burying beetle, Nicrophorus vespilloides. Previous experiments with N. vespilloides suggest that an increased egg size can compensate for a relatively poor environment after hatching. Here, we phenotypically engineered female N. vespilloides to produce large or small eggs by varying the amount of time they were allowed to feed on the carcass as larvae. We then tested whether differences between these groups in egg size translated into differences in larval performance in a harsh postnatal environment that excluded parental care. We found that females engineered to produce large eggs did not have higher breeding success, and nor did they produce larger larvae than females engineered to produce small eggs. These results suggest that there is a limit on the extent to which increased maternal investment in egg size can compensate for a poor posthatching environment. We discuss the implication of our results for a recent study showing that experimental N. vespilloides populations can adapt rapidly to the absence of posthatching parental care.
Project description:Studies on the evolution of parental care have focused primarily on the costs and benefits of parental care and the life-history attributes that favour it. However, once care evolves, offspring in some taxa appear to become increasingly dependent on their parents. Although offspring dependency is a central theme in family life, the evolutionary dynamics leading to it are not fully understood. Beetles of the genus Nicrophorus are well known for their elaborate biparental care, including provisioning of their young. By manipulating the occurrence of pre- or post-hatching care, we show that the offspring of three burying beetle species, N. orbicollis, N. pustulatus, and N. vespilloides, show striking variation in their reliance on parental care. Our results demonstrate that this variation within one genus arises through a differential dependency of larvae on parental feeding, but not on pre-hatching care. In N. pustulatus, larvae appear to be nutritionally independent of their parents, but in N. orbicollis, larvae do not survive in the absence of parental feeding. We consider evolutionary scenarios by which nutritional dependency may have evolved, highlighting the role of brood size regulation via infanticide in this genus.
Project description:Nicrophorus vespilloides is a social beetle that rears its offspring on decomposing carrion. Wild beetles are frequently associated with two types of macrobial symbionts, mites, and nematodes. Although these organisms are believed to be phoretic commensals that harmlessly use beetles as a means of transfer between carcasses, the role of these symbionts on N. vespilloides fitness is poorly understood. Here, we show that nematodes have significant negative effects on beetle fitness across a range of worm densities and also quantify the density-dependent transmission of worms between mating individuals and from parents to offspring. Using field-caught beetles, we provide the first report of a new nematode symbiont in N. vespilloides, most closely related to Rhabditoides regina, and show that worm densities are highly variable across individuals isolated from nature but do not differ between males and females. Next, by inoculating mating females with increasing densities of nematodes, we show that worm infections significantly reduce brood size, larval survival, and larval mass, and also eliminate the trade-off between brood size and larval mass. Finally, we show that nematodes are efficiently transmitted between mating individuals and from mothers to larvae, directly and indirectly via the carcass, and that worms persist through pupation. These results show that the phoretic nematode R. regina can be highly parasitic to burying beetles but can nevertheless persist because of efficient mechanisms of intersexual and intergenerational transmission. Phoretic species are exceptionally common and may cause significant harm to their hosts, even though they rely on these larger species for transmission to new resources. However, this harm may be inevitable and unavoidable if transmission of phoretic symbionts requires nematode proliferation. It will be important to determine the generality of our results for other phoretic associates of animals. It will equally be important to assess the fitness effects of phoretic species under changing resource conditions and in the field where diverse interspecific interactions may exacerbate or reduce the negative effects of phoresy.
Project description:Parents have a limited amount of resources to invest in reproduction and commonly trade-off how much they invest in offspring size (or quality) versus brood size. A negative relationship between offspring size and number has been shown in numerous taxa and it underpins evolutionary conflicts of interest between parents and their young. For example, previous work on vertebrates shows that selection favours mothers that produce more offspring, at the expense of individual offspring size, yet favours offspring that have relatively few siblings and therefore attain a greater size at independence. Here we analyse how this trade-off is temporarily affected by stochastic variation in the intensity of interspecific interactions. We examined the effect of the mite Poecilochirus carabi on the relationship between offspring size and number in the burying beetle, Nicrophorus vespilloides. We manipulated the initial number of mites in the reproductive event (by introducing either no mites, 4 mites, 10 mites, or 16 mites), and assessed the effect on the brood. We found a similar trade-off between offspring size and number in all treatments, except in the '16 mite' treatment where the correlation between offspring number and size flattened considerably. This effect arose because larvae in small broods failed to attain a high mass by dispersal. Our results show that variation in the intensity of interspecific interactions can temporarily change the strength of the trade-off between offspring size and number. In this study, high densities of mites prevented individual offspring from attaining their optimal weight, thus potentially temporarily biasing the outcome of parent-offspring conflict in favour of parents.
Project description:Parents of many species provision their young, and the extent of parental provisioning constitutes a major component of the offspring's social environment. Thus, a change in parental provisioning can alter selection on offspring, resulting in the coevolution of parental and offspring traits. Although this reasoning is central to our evolutionary understanding of family life, there is little direct evidence that selection by parents causes evolutionary change in their offspring. Here we use experimental evolution to examine how populations of burying beetles adapt to a change in posthatching parental provisioning. We measured the performance of larvae descended from lab populations that had been maintained with and without posthatching parental care (Full Care and No Care populations). We found that adaptation to the absence of posthatching care led to rapid and consistent changes in larval survival in the absence of care. Specifically, larvae from No Care populations had higher survival in the absence of care than larvae from Full Care populations. Other measures of larval performance, such as the ability of larvae to consume a breeding carcass and larval mass at dispersal, did not differ between the Full Care and No Care populations. Nevertheless, our results show that populations can adapt rapidly to a change in the extent of parental care and that experimental evolution can be used to study such adaptation.