How is sexual conflict over parental care resolved? A meta-analysis

F. Harrison, Z. Barta, I. Cuthill, T. Székely

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

148 Citations (Scopus)


Biparental care of offspring is both a form of cooperation and a source of conflict. Parents face a trade-off between current and future reproduction: caring less for the current brood allows individuals to maintain energy reserves and increase their chances of remating. How can selection maintain biparental care, given this temptation to defect? The answer lies in how parents respond to changes in each other's effort. Game-theoretical models predict that biparental care is evolutionarily stable when reduced care by one parent leads its partner to increase care, but not so much that it completely compensates for the lost input. Experiments designed to reveal responses to reduced partner effort have mainly focused on birds. We present a meta-analysis of 54 such studies, and conclude that the mean response was indeed partial compensation. Males and females responded differently and this was in part mediated by the type of manipulation used.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1800-1812
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sep 1 2009


  • Biparental care
  • Compensation
  • Cooperation
  • Handicapping
  • Meta-analysis
  • Parental care
  • Partner removal
  • Sexual conflict

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics

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