Public Release: 

Conflict over rearing young shapes breeding systems

Evolutionary tug-of-war decides which sex provides care

American Institute of Biological Sciences

An article in the October 2006 issue of BioScience, the monthly journal of the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS), describes evidence that conflict between male and female shorebirds over which member of a breeding pair will raise their young has had a profound influence on the evolution of breeding systems in these birds. The article, by Tamás Szélely, Gavin H. Thomas, and Innes C. Cuthill, likens the conflict to a tug-of-war played out over evolutionary time.

Shorebirds have varied breeding systems. Females care for the young in some species, males do in others, and in many, the chore is shared. In the Kentish plover, which the authors studied in detail, either the male or the female in a pair may desert, leaving the other partner with the task of raising the young alone.

The authors, at the University of Bath, Imperial College, London, and the University of Bristol, all in the United Kingdom, used a combination of experiments and mathematical modeling to analyze the decisions that Kentish plovers make while raising their chicks. Modeling suggested a rationale for the finding that females are more likely to desert if there are local unpaired males: that tendency emerged as a strategy likely to persist in evolution. Further analyses used molecular and other data to examine the evolution of breeding systems in a variety of shorebirds. These studies suggested that in species with chicks that need a lot of parental care, cooperative rearing is more likely to persist. In species with young that become independent early, either males or females are likely to desert their partners.


BioScience publishes commentary and peer-reviewed articles covering a wide range of biological fields, with a focus on "Organisms from Molecules to the Environment." The journal has been published since 1964. AIBS is an umbrella organization for professional scientific societies and organizations that are involved with biology. It represents some 200 member societies and organizations with a combined membership of about 250,000.

The October 2006 issue of BioScience includes a Fall Focus on Books. The section carries two Special Book Articles: one by Jolene Kay Jesse on recent scholarship on cultural change, gender, and diversity; and one by George Boody and Brian DeVore on redesigning agriculture.

The research articles in the issue are as follows:

Sexual Conflict, Ecology, and Breeding Systems in Shorebirds. Tamás Szélely, Gavin H. Thomas, and Innes C. Cuthill

Disturbance and Aquatic Biodiversity: Reconciling Contrasting Views. Fabio Lepori and Niclas Hjerdt

Are Vultures Birds, and Do Snakes Have Venom, because of Macro- and Microscavenger Conflict? John A. Shivik

Development in the Sea of Cortés Calls for Mitigation. Sergio Ticul Álvarez-Castañeda, Patricia Cortés-Calva, Lia Méndez, and Alfredo Ortega-Rubio

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