Evolutionary importance of parental care performance, food resources, and direct and indirect genetic effects in a burying beetle


Claudia M. Rauter, Department of Entomology, University of Kentucky, S-225 Agricultural Science Center North, Lexington, KY 40546-0091, USA. Tel: +1859 257 7472; fax: +1859 323 1120; e-mail: cmraut0@uky.edu


Indirect genetic effects (IGE) of parental care performance and the direct–indirect covariance contribute substantially to total heritability in domesticated and laboratory mammals. For animals from natural populations empirical estimates of IGE are sparse. Thus, despite recent models relating IGE to evolution, evolutionary interpretations of IGE are limited. To address this deficit, we used a reciprocal cross-fostering breeding design to estimate environmental influences, direct and indirect genetic effects, and direct–indirect genetic covariances in the burying beetle Nicrophorus pustulatus to determine the evolutionary importance of IGE arising from variation in parental care performance. Carrion size positively affected adult mass and time on carrion, but had no effect on total development time. Males were slightly larger than females. For both mass and development, independent of these environmental influences, direct and indirect genetic effects were of moderate magnitude. Total genetic effects explained 36–50% of the phenotypic variance in mass and size and 27–37% of phenotypic variance in development time. Direct–indirect genetic covariances were zero or close to zero. Thus, for both mass and development time, the response to natural selection arising from environmental variation may be accelerated by the presence of IGE in N. pustulatus. The generality of this pattern and the evolutionary significance of IGE arising from parental care awaits further study of natural populations.