• desertion;
  • parental care;
  • Remiz pendulinus;
  • reproductive success;
  • sexual conflict


A fundamental tenet of sexual conflict theory is that one sex may increase its reproductive success (RS) even if this harms the other sex. Several studies supported this principle by showing that males benefit from reduced paternal care whereas females suffer from it. By investigating penduline tits Remiz pendulinus in nature, we show that parental conflict may be symmetric between sexes. In this small passerine a single female (or male) cares for the offspring, whereas about 30% of clutches are deserted by both parents. Deserting parents enhance their RS by obtaining multiple mates, and they reduce the RS of their mates due to increased nest failure. Unlike most other species, however, the antagonistic interests are symmetric in penduline tits, because both sexes enhance their own RS by deserting, whilst harming the RS of their mates. We argue that the strong antagonistic interests of sexes explain the high frequency of biparental desertion.