The Costs of Parental Care: A Meta-Analysis of the Trade-Off Between Parental Effort and Survival in Birds

J Evol Biol. 2012 Sep;25(9):1911-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1420-9101.2012.02569.x. Epub 2012 Jul 25.


A fundamental premise of life-history theory is that organisms that increase current reproductive investment suffer increased mortality. Possibly the most studied life-history phenotypic relationship is the trade-off between parental effort and survival. However, evidence supporting this trade-off is equivocal. Here, we conducted a meta-analysis to test the generality of this tenet. Using experimental studies that manipulated parental effort in birds, we show that (i) the effect of parental effort on survival was similar across species regardless of phylogeny; (ii) individuals that experienced reduced parental effort had similar survival probabilities than control individuals, regardless of sex; and (iii) males that experienced increased parental effort were less likely to survive than control males, whereas females that experienced increased effort were just as likely to survive as control females. Our results suggest that the trade-off between parental effort and survival is more complex than previously assumed. Finally, our study provides recommendations of unexplored avenues of future research into life-history trade-offs.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Birds / classification
  • Birds / physiology*
  • Clutch Size
  • Databases, Factual
  • Female
  • Genetic Fitness*
  • Male
  • Odds Ratio
  • Phylogeny
  • Sex Factors
  • Survival Analysis