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The dynamics of parental behaviour

Families are often thought to be harmonious social groups with their members (i.e. parents and offspring) having shared interests and therefore cooperating. In reality, however, family relationships are often a lot more complicated, as they are the evolutionary outcome of both shared and conflicting interests. Through their offspring parents transmit their genes into future generations. By providing care (e.g. food), parents increase the chances of survival and future reproduction of their offspring. At first glance, this is expected to be in the evolutionary interest of both parents and offspring. However, conflict will arise when the amount of care provided reduces the parent’s survival and future reproductive chances, or as soon as multiple offspring compete for their parents’ care. Parents are equally related to all of their genetic offspring, but each offspring only shares half of its genes with its full-siblings. Evolutionary theory therefore predicts that each offspring should be slightly selfish and act to obtain a larger share of care than its siblings. Hence, the dynamics of parental care and family interactions are expected to be shaped strongly by both shared and conflicting interests between the family members. To better understand how both cooperation and conflict impact on the dynamics of parental behaviour we study the behaviour and genetics of both blue tits that have biparental care and Seychelles warblers that have a helper system in which older offspring help their parents in raising their younger siblings.

Research projects
  • Determinants and consequences of paternity success
  • Parental care - Shaped by parent-offspring conflict and co-adaptation
  • Paying the costs of helping others
  • Breeding density and parentage
Key publications

Brouwer L, Richardson DS, Komdeur J (2012): Helpers at the nest improve late-life offspring performance: evidence from a long-term study and a cross-foster experiment. PLoS ONE 7, e33167.

Komdeur J. (2012): Sex allocation. In: Royle N.J., Smiseth P.T. & Kölliker M. (eds) The evolution of parental care, pp. 171-188. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Van Dijk R.E., Székely T., Komdeur J., Pogány Á., Fawcett T.W. & Weissing F.J. (2012): Individual variation and the resolution of conflict over parental care in penduline tits. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 279, 1927-1931.

Eikenaar C, Brouwer L, Komdeur J, Richardson DS (2010): Sex biased natal dispersal is not a fixed trait in a stable population of Seychelles warblers. Behaviour 147, 1577–1590.

Magrath M.J.L., Vedder O., Van der Velde M. & Komdeur J. (2009): Maternal effects contribute to the superior performance of extra-pair offspring. Curr. Biol. 19, 792-797.

Last modified:17 May 2019 1.40 p.m.