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Open Access Research article

Sexual conflict and consistency of offspring desertion in Eurasian penduline tit Remiz pendulinus

Ákos Pogány1*, István Szentirmai1, Jan Komdeur2 and Tamás Székely3

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Ethology, Eötvös University, Pázmány Péter S. 1/C, Budapest, H-1117, Hungary

2 Animal Ecology Group, Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Studies, University of Groningen, Biological Centre, P.O. Box 14, 9750, AA Haren, The Netherlands

3 Department of Biology and Biochemistry, University of Bath, Bath, BA2 7AY, UK

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2008, 8:242  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-8-242

Published: 1 September 2008

Abstract

Background

The trade-off between current and future parental investment is often different between males and females. This difference may lead to sexual conflict between parents over care provisioning in animals that breed with multiple mates. One of the most obvious manifestations of sexual conflict over care is offspring desertion whereby one parent deserts the young to increase its reproductive success at the expense of its mate. Offspring desertion is a wide-spread behavior, and its frequency often varies within populations. We studied the consistency of offspring desertion in a small passerine bird, the Eurasian penduline tit Remiz pendulinus, that has an extremely variable breeding system. Both males and females are sequentially polygamous, and a single parent (either the male or the female) incubates the eggs and rears the young. About 28–40% of offspring are abandoned by both parents, and these offspring perish. Here we investigate whether the variation in offspring desertion in a population emerges either by each individual behaving consistently between different broods, or it is driven by the environment.

Results

Using a three-year dataset from Southern Hungary we show that offspring desertion by females is consistent between nests. Male desertion, however, depends on ambient environment, because all males desert their nests early in the season and some of them care late in the season. Therefore, within-population variation in parental care emerges by sexually different mechanisms; between-individual variation was responsible for the observed pattern of offspring desertion in females, whereas within-individual variation was responsible for the observed pattern in males.

Conclusion

To our knowledge, our study is the first that investigates repeatability of offspring desertion behavior in nature. The contrasting strategies of the sexes imply complex evolutionary trajectories in breeding behavior of penduline tits. Our results raise an intriguing question whether the sexual difference in caring/deserting decisions explain the extreme intensity of sexual conflict in penduline tits that produces a high frequency of biparentally deserted (and thus wasted) offspring.