Sexual conflict over parental investment in repeated bouts: negotiation reduces overall care

C. M. Lessells*, John M. McNamara

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

88 Citations (Scopus)


Understanding the evolution of parental care is complicated by the occurrence of evolutionary conflicts of interest within the family, variation in the quality and state of family members, and repeated bouts of investment in a family of offspring. As a result, family members are expected to negotiate over care. We present a model for the resolution of sexual conflict in which parents negotiate over repeated bouts of care. Negotiation is mediated by parents deciding at the start of each bout how much care to give on the basis of the state (mass) of offspring, which reflects the amount of care previously received. The evolutionarily stable pattern of care depends on whether the parents care together for the whole family, or each cares alone for part of the divided family. When they care together, they provide less care in the first bout, more in the last bout, and less care overall, resulting in lower parental and offspring fitness. Our results emphasize that negotiation over parental care may occur as a means of avoiding exploitation owing to sexual conflict, even in the absence of variation in the quality of either sex of parent, and lead to a reduction in fitness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1506-1514
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1733
Publication statusPublished - 22 Apr 2012


  • parental investment
  • Houston-Davies model
  • sexual conflict
  • negotiation
  • parental care
  • biparental care


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