Filial cannibalism in teleost fish

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ABSTRACT

This review summarizes information on filial cannibalism (the act of eating one's own offspring) in teleost fish. Cannibalistic parents can either consume their whole brood (total filial cannibalism), or eat only some of the eggs in the nest (partial filial cannibalism). Offspring consumption has been argued to be adaptive under the assumption that offspring survival is traded against feeding, and that offspring can act as an alternative food source for the parents. The evidence supporting the basic predictions formulated under these assumptions is summarized for both total and partial filial cannibalism. These two forms of cannibalism differ significantly since the former represents an investment only in future reproductive success, whereas the latter can affect both present and future reproductive success. Despite a few inconsistencies in the data from laboratory and field studies, the energy-based explanation appears valid for both forms of cannibalism. Alternative non-energy-based explanations are considered, but they are unable to account for the wide distribution of this behaviour in teleosts. The intersexual conflict arising from attempts of the non-cannibal sex to minimize the cost of filial cannibalism is also discussed, together with the potential effect of this behaviour on the operational sex ratio at a population level.

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