Optimal maternal investment in the dung beetle Onthophagus taurus?

J.C. Hunt, Leigh Simmons

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Optimal investment theory is based on the assumption that the proximate constraint acting on parental investment is resource based. A trade-off between per offspring investment and total investment seems intuitive. Consequently, a parent's investment strategy is expected to represent a trade-off between the benefits of investment for current offspring and the costs to future reproduction for parents. In this study, we provide clear evidence that the costs and benefits of maternal provisioning in the dung beetle Onthophagus taurus influence the amount of provisions provided by the mother. Horse dung is typically of a higher nutritional value than cow dung and females were shown to provide 20% less dung to offspring when provisioning with horse dung. By reducing their investment per offspring and exhibiting a clear preference to provision offspring with horse dung, females were able to produce significantly more offspring. Females provisioning with horse dung received greater fitness returns per unit of investment and experienced lower provisioning costs, in terms of the minimum amount of dung required to produce a surviving offspring, than females provisioning with cow dung. Females provisioning in soil of low moisture content were found to have higher tunneling costs than those provisioning in soil of high moisture content, while the fitness returns per unit of investment did not differ. We adopted a marginal value theorem (MVT) approach to calculate the theoretical optimal level of investment for each dung type and for each soil moisture. Predicted levels of provisioning were lower for horse dung than for cow dung and for moist soil than for dry soil. Therefore, the results of this study are in qualitative agreement with MVT predictions and provide empirical support for the proposal that females can adaptively adjust their level of investment in response to resource and/or habitat quality. However, the theoretically predicted optimal investment yielded a poor quantitative fit with our observed levels of investment, with females providing over twice the investment predicted by the MVT approach. We suggest that this difference may reflect either our inability in directly quantifying all the necessary costs and benefits of investment in O. taurus and/or the applicability of the underlying assumptions of MVT.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)302-312
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Volume55
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2004

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