The influence of maternal effects on indirect benefits associated with polyandry

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Despite numerous and diverse theoretical models for the indirect benefits of polyandry, empirical support is mixed. One reason for the difficulty in detecting indirect benefits of polyandry may be that these are subtle and are mediated by environmental effects, such as maternal effects. Maternal effects may be especially important if females allocate resources to their offspring depending on the characteristics of their mating partners. We test this hypothesis in the burying beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides, a species that provides extensive and direct parental care to offspring. We used a fully factorial design and mated females to one, two, three, four or five different males and manipulated conditions so that their offspring received reduced (12 h) or full (ca 72 h) maternal care. We found that average offspring fitness increased with full maternal care but there was no significant effect of polyandry or the interaction between the duration of maternal care and the level of polyandry on offspring fitness. Thus, although polyandry could provide a mechanism for biasing paternity towards high quality or compatible males, and variation in parental care matters, we found no evidence that female N. vespilloides gain indirect benefits by using parental care to bias the allocation of resources under different mating conditions. © 2010 The Royal Society.

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