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Abstract

Parental investment theory states that an individual will trade-off present and future reproductive potential to maximize lifetime reproductive success. Only when parental care is costly in terms of reduced future reproductive potential should individuals be sensitive to changes in the value of current offspring and adjust their care. Here, we examine temporal variation in parental care decision-making in bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus), in which care is provided by males called ‘parentals’. Previous research has shown that parentals that nest early in the breeding season are in higher energetic condition than those that nest later, and early nesting males appear not to pay an opportunity cost to their care in terms of reduced future reproductive potential. Early nesting males also may have higher paternity in their broods than later nesting males. To examine the parental care decisions made by early and mid-season nesting parentals, we experimentally reduced males’ perceived paternity by swapping eggs between nests. We found that experimental males that nested early in the breeding season adjusted their brood defence behaviour similarly to control males, which had sham egg swaps performed. Conversely, experimental males that nested mid-season significantly decreased their brood defence behaviour after the manipulation as compared with control males. Thus, unlike mid-season nesting males, early nesting males appear relatively insensitive to changes in brood value (paternity), possibly because early nesting males pay little cost in terms of reduced future reproductive potential to providing full care or because these males have a predisposition to high paternity.