- Parental care increases the fitness of offspring at a cost to the parents in terms of residual reproductive success. This trade-off may be affected by ecology, life history and the social environment, which raises the question as to how these factors contribute to the evolution of parental care. Here, previous hypotheses concerning the evolution of parental care in insects are summarized and discussed and the underlying empirical evidence is reviewed.
- Ecological factors such as harsh environments, ephemeral food sources or predation pressure are broadly accepted as evolutionary drivers of parental care. The most consistent evidence supports a role for natural enemies such as predators, microbes and cannibalistic conspecifics. Also, the importance of ecological factors may interact with the life history (parity) of a species, either as a pre-adaptation facilitating the evolution of parental care or as a consequence of enhanced parental investment under parental care. Yet, only limited experimental research has been carried out to test the combined influence of ecology and life history in the evolution of parental care.
- Several forms of care can mediate the transition from solitary to family living, which entails the emergence of a novel – social – environment that generates new selection pressures from interactions within and between families. In this context, we review examples of studies on communal breeding, brood parasitism, parent–offspring conflict and co-adaptation, and discuss how these social interactions may in turn be influenced by ecological factors such as food availability or population density.
- Insects are uniquely suitable for experimental and comparative research on the complex interplay between ecology, life history, and the social environment.