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1. Burying beetles inter small vertebrate carcasses that ultimately serve as a food source for their developing young. The male remains with the female on the carcass after the brood has been produced, purportedly to aid in the feeding and protection of larvae. However, numerous laboratory experiments have failed to demonstrate a beneficial effect of the male on the growth and survival of offspring.

2. A potential difficulty with laboratory studies is that beetles are typically held under relatively benign conditions, protected from the biotic and environmental challenges that they normally encounter. In nature, males may enhance offspring survival by aiding the female in ridding the carcass of mould, and by helping to preserve the carcass through the secretion of antibiotic substances in the beetles’ saliva. To examine more rigorously the potential benefits of male parental care, an experiment was conducted under field conditions in which the reproductive output of male–female pairs was compared to that of single females.

3. Beetles were induced to bury carcasses in soil inside rigid plastic tubes that had been inserted into the ground. The experiment was a paired design involving pairs of sisters reproducing in adjacent tubes; one sister reproduced alone, whereas the other reproduced with the assistance of a male. Soil cores were recovered about 1 month later, and examined for viable pupae.

4. There was no significant difference in the number of offspring produced by single females and those reproducing with the assistance of the male, nor was there any significant difference in total brood mass. These results suggest that any benefits of extended male residency on the carcass do not stem from male participation in carcass maintenance or provisioning young.