Parental antagonism and parent-offspring co-adaptation interact to shape family life

Proc Biol Sci. 2012 Oct 7;279(1744):3981-8. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2012.1416. Epub 2012 Jul 18.


The family is an arena for conflicts between offspring, mothers and fathers that need resolving to promote the evolution of parental care and the maintenance of family life. Co-adaptation is known to contribute to the resolution of parent-offspring conflict over parental care by selecting for combinations of offspring demand and parental supply that match to maximize the fitness of family members. However, multiple paternity and differences in the level of care provided by mothers and fathers can generate antagonistic selection on offspring demand (mediated, for example, by genomic imprinting) and possibly hamper co-adaptation. While parent-offspring co-adaptation and parental antagonism are commonly considered two major processes in the evolution of family life, their co-occurrence and the evolutionary consequences of their joint action are poorly understood. Here, we demonstrate the simultaneous and entangled effects of these two processes on outcomes of family interactions, using a series of breeding experiments in the European earwig, Forficula auricularia, an insect species with uniparental female care. As predicted from parental antagonism, we show that paternally inherited effects expressed in offspring influence both maternal care and maternal investment in future reproduction. However, and as expected from the entangled effects of parental antagonism and co-adaptation, these effects critically depended on postnatal interactions with caring females and maternally inherited effects expressed in offspring. Our results demonstrate that parent-offspring co-adaptation and parental antagonism are entangled key drivers in the evolution of family life that cannot be fully understood in isolation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Biological*
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Crosses, Genetic
  • Female
  • Insecta / genetics
  • Insecta / physiology*
  • Male
  • Maternal Behavior
  • Reproduction
  • Selection, Genetic*