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Title: The ecology of parental care in the burying beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides Herbst
Author: Blackman, Stuart W.
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 1995
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Nicrophorus vespilloides Herbst (Coleoptera; Silphidae) bury the carcasses of small vertebrates which provide food for their developing larvae. The use of such a valuable, yet rare and ephemeral resource has led to the evolution of a complex and variable social system that ranges from parental care by a single female, through monogamy and biparental care to co-operative breeding. Concentrating on broods raised by either one or two parents, I used laboratory and field populations to study the benefits of parental care in N. vespilloides. A decline in the apparent clutch size of N. vespilloides with successive generations of laboratory culture was correlated with an increase in numbers of the phoretic mite Poecilochirus davydovae Hyatt. Beetles with their mites removed had significantly larger apparent clutch sizes than beetles whose cargoes were left intact. Observations of mite behaviour suggested that the mite eats the eggs of its host. A comparison of the apparent clutch sizes of beetles in the presence or absence of carrion fly eggs implied that P. davydovae is predatory on burying beetle eggs in the field. Adult beetles eclosing from larvae raised on small carcasses (where brood size is regulated by the parents killing a proportion of the first instar larvae) were at least as big as beetles that successfully secured, and raised broods on carcasses placed in the field. There was no difference in the degree of filial cannibalism in broods raised by a single female or a male and female. In the laboratory, broods tended by a single female were vulnerable to being taken over by conspecifics resulting in the death of the larvae and the production of a smaller replacement brood. The additional presence of a caring male completely eliminated this risk.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available