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Keywords:

  • Cross-fostering;
  • indirect genetic effects;
  • maternal effects;
  • parental effects;
  • paternal care;
  • quantitative genetics

Knowledge of how genetic effects arising from parental care influence the evolution of offspring traits comes almost exclusively from studies of maternal care. However, males provide care in some taxa, and often this care differs from females in quality or quantity. If variation in paternal care is genetically based then, like maternal care and maternal effects, paternal effects may have important consequences for the evolution of offspring traits via indirect genetic effects (IGEs). IGEs and direct–indirect genetic covariances associated with parental care can contribute substantially to total heritability and influence predictions about how traits respond to selection. It is unknown, however, if the magnitude and sign of parental effects arising from fathers are the same as those arising from mothers. We used a reciprocal cross-fostering experiment to quantify environmental and genetic effects of paternal care on offspring performance in the burying beetle, Nicrophorus vespilloides. We found that IGEs were substantial and direct–indirect genetic covariances were negative. Combined, these patterns led to low total heritabilities for offspring performance traits. Thus, under paternal care, offspring performance traits are unlikely to evolve in response to selection, and variation in these traits will be maintained in the population despite potentially strong selection on these traits. These patterns are similar to those generated by maternal care, indicating that the genetic effects of care on offspring performance are independent of the caregiver's sex.