The evolution of parental care

Q Rev Biol. 2005 Mar;80(1):37-45. doi: 10.1086/431023.


Our understanding of parental care behavior can be significantly advanced through the application of Williams's Principle, which states that reproduction has not only a benefit but also a cost to lifetime fitness. My laboratory has formalized Williams's Principle into the relative value theorem and found that its application to fishes, the taxa with the most diverse patterns of parental care, can help to explain which sex provides care and how much. In fishes, it is often the male that provides parental care, not because the male obtains greater benefits from this care, but probably because he pays fewer costs. Fish dynamically adjust their investment into parental care according to the number of offspring in their brood, past investment, genetic relatedness, and alternative mating opportunities, all of which affect the value of current offspring relative to potential future offspring. These results may also help us understand the joy and the challenges of parental care in humans.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Body Size
  • Female
  • Fishes / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Biological*
  • Parenting*
  • Selection, Genetic
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal*