Who cares? Why evolution suggests parenting responsibility is seldom equally shared

February 17, 2015, University of Bristol
Female House Sparrow, Bairnsdale Australia. Credit: Wikipedia.

Why is caring for young shared unequally between the sexes in so many animal species? Research from the University of Bristol, UK suggests that small initial differences which predispose one sex to care more are exaggerated once the ability to care evolves. As a result, one sex evolves attributes - such as mammary glands in female mammals or increased brain size in some fish - that enhance the ability to care, and so this sex does most or all of the care.

Patterns of parenting in nature range from care by one parent only (seen in many mammals), to male/female biased care, to care by both parents (seen in many birds).

Parental care involves one of the fundamental conflicts of interest between the sexes. Care by either partner is beneficial to both partners as it increases the health and survival prospects of the common young; providing care is costly only to the caring individual. As a result, each partner does best in a situation where most of the care is provided by the other partner—an outcome that is clearly impossible.

Differences in care can be explained by differences in the costs and benefits of caring with two factors currently considered to be the key drivers: certainty of parentage (which decreases the benefit of care for the less certain sex - usually the male) and sexual selection (which increases the cost of care for the sex that can mate again faster).

Professor John McNamara, of the University of Bristol's School of Mathematics, and Dr Max Wolf of the Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries, used a modelling approach to show that even in the complete absence of these factors, substantial differences in care are to be expected.

They found that in both the ability to care and levels of care are prone to spontaneously evolve as a result of the sexual conflict of interest over and the co-evolutionary interaction between levels of care and ability to care.

Professor McNamara said: "While the coevolution of care and the ability to care thus predicts strong sex differences in care to emerge, it does not predict which sex is more likely to care. However, once other factors that give rise to even the slightest differences in the cost and benefits of care between the sexes, such as differences in certainty of parentage, are taken into account, a clear directionality emerges. The sex with the lower cost or higher benefit of care evolves to both be more able to care and to provide much higher levels of care than the other sex."

The findings, published today in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, thus suggest that the coevolution of levels of care and the ability to care may be a key factor underlying the evolution of sex differences in caring for young.

Explore further: Sexual conflict affects females more than males, says new research on beetles

More information: 'Sexual conflict over parental care promotes the evolution of sex differences in care and the ability to care 'by John M. McNamara and Max Wolf in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: rspb.royalsocietypublishing.or … .1098/rspb.2014.2752

Related Stories

Planning for the move from children's to adult palliative care

October 21, 2014

The differences between children's and adult palliative care services are too wide for young people with life-limiting conditions to negotiate, according to research by Bangor University. Commenting on the findings, the researchers ...

Recommended for you

Squid could provide an eco-friendly alternative to plastics

February 21, 2019

The remarkable properties of a recently-discovered squid protein could revolutionize materials in a way that would be unattainable with conventional plastic, finds a review published in Frontiers in Chemistry. Originating ...

Female golden snub-nosed monkeys share nursing of young

February 21, 2019

An international team of researchers including The University of Western Australia and China's Central South University of Forestry and Technology has discovered that female golden snub-nosed monkeys in China are happy to ...

When does one of the central ideas in economics work?

February 20, 2019

The concept of equilibrium is one of the most central ideas in economics. It is one of the core assumptions in the vast majority of economic models, including models used by policymakers on issues ranging from monetary policy ...

In colliding galaxies, a pipsqueak shines bright

February 20, 2019

In the nearby Whirlpool galaxy and its companion galaxy, M51b, two supermassive black holes heat up and devour surrounding material. These two monsters should be the most luminous X-ray sources in sight, but a new study using ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

4 / 5 (8) Feb 17, 2015

Yes, this a science site, that's why a creationist troll should just STFU!
5 / 5 (1) Feb 18, 2015
yup... makes perfect sense
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (1) Feb 24, 2015
the stupidity of spreading pseudoscience is never entertaining
it is the reason we have all these religious and pseudoscience posters like reset/nofate, cd, verkle, jvk and so many more

Keep pointing out the crackpots, Vietvet!
Evolution doesn't suggest anything. It is an unproven surmise
1- Evolution THEORY is proven by factual, observed empirical data
2- creationist diatribe like yours is based upon religion, thus cannot possibly be truthful or even scientific
you don't even know that you are pushing 7th day Adventist pseudoscience that was debunked so long ago your grandparents wouldn't even remember it!

As an actual scientists points out in this video: https://www.youtu...jWkVKyRo

So you lie and steal 7th day dogma and then brand it as your own
throw in some big words
Then change the name so that it isn't readily recognized as already debunked
and you have a new religious order of "science sounding" stuff

epic fail

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.