Sex-biased parental care and sexual size dimorphism in a provisioning arthropod

Field, Jeremy, Shreeves, Gavin, Kennedy, Martyn, Brace, Selina and Gilbert, James D J (2015) Sex-biased parental care and sexual size dimorphism in a provisioning arthropod. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 69 (12). pp. 1897-1906. ISSN 0340-5443

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The diverse selection pressures driving the evolution of sexual size dimorphism (SSD) have long been debated. While the balance between fecundity selection and sexual selection has received much attention, explanations based on sex-specific ecology have proven harder to test. In ectotherms, females are typically larger than males, and this is frequently thought to be because size constrains female fecundity more than it constrains male mating success. However, SSD could additionally reflect maternal care strategies. Under this hypothesis, females are relatively larger where reproduction requires greater maximum maternal effort – for example where mothers transport heavy provisions to nests.

To test this hypothesis we focussed on digger wasps (Hymenoptera: Ammophilini), a relatively homogeneous group in which only females provision offspring. In some species, a single large prey item, up to 10 times the mother’s weight, must be carried to each burrow on foot; other species provide many small prey, each flown individually to the nest.

We found more pronounced female-biased SSD in species where females carry single, heavy prey. More generally, SSD was negatively correlated with numbers of prey provided per offspring. Females provisioning multiple small items had longer wings and thoraxes, probably because smaller prey are carried in flight.

Despite much theorising, few empirical studies have tested how sex-biased parental care can affect SSD. Our study reveals that such costs can be associated with the evolution of dimorphism, and this should be investigated in other clades where parental care costs differ between sexes and species.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Sexual dimorphism,Parental care,Hymenoptera,Wasps
Schools and Departments: School of Life Sciences > Evolution, Behaviour and Environment
Subjects: Q Science > QL Zoology > QL0750 Animal behaviour
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Depositing User: Jeremy Field
Date Deposited: 18 Sep 2015 13:14
Last Modified: 30 Jul 2019 11:00

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