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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Mother and offspring fitness in an insect with maternal care: phenotypic trade-offs between egg number, egg mass and egg care

Lisa K Koch and Joël Meunier*

Author Affiliations

Department of Evolutionary Biology, Institute of Zoology, Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, Mainz, Germany

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2014, 14:125  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-14-125

Published: 9 June 2014



Oviparous females have three main options to increase their reproductive success: investing into egg number, egg mass and/or egg care. Although allocating resources to either of these three components is known to shape offspring number and size, potential trade-offs among them may have key impacts on maternal and offspring fitness. Here, we tested the occurrence of phenotypic trade-offs between egg number, egg mass and maternal expenditure on egg care in the European earwig, Forficula auricularia, an insect with pre- and post-hatching forms of maternal care. In particular, we used a series of laboratory observations and experiments to investigate whether these three components non-additively influenced offspring weight and number at hatching, and whether they were associated with potential costs to females in terms of future reproduction.


We found negative associations between egg number and mass as well as between egg number and maternal expenditure on egg care. However, these trade-offs could only be detected after statistically correcting for female weight at egg laying. Hatchling number was not determined by single or additive effects among the three life-history traits, but instead by pairwise interactions among them. In particular, offspring number was positively associated with the number of eggs only in clutches receiving high maternal care or consisting of heavy eggs, and negatively associated with mean egg mass in clutches receiving low care. In contrast, offspring weight was positively associated with egg mass only. Finally, maternal expenditure on egg care reduced their future reproduction, but this effect was only detected when mothers were experimentally isolated from their offspring at egg hatching.


Overall, our study reveals simultaneous trade-offs between the number, mass and care of eggs. It also demonstrates that these factors interact in their impact on offspring production, and that maternal expenditure on egg care possibly shapes female future reproduction. These findings emphasize that studying reproductive success requires consideration of phenotypic trade-offs between egg-number, egg mass and egg care in oviparous species.

Reproduction; Parental care; Egg cannibalism; Reciprocal causation; Cost; Insect; Earwig