The genetics of maternal care: Direct and indirect genetic effects on phenotype in the dung beetle Onthophagus taurus

J. Hunt, Leigh Simmons

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

88 Citations (Scopus)


While theoretical models of the evolution of parental care are based on the assumption of underlying genetic variance, surprisingly few quantitative genetic studies of this life-history trait exist. Estimation of the degree of genetic variance in parental care is important because it can be a significant source of maternal effects, which, if genetically based, represent indirect genetic effects. A major prediction of indirect genetic effect theory is that traits without heritable variation can evolve because of the heritable environmental variation that indirect genetic effects provide. In the dung beetle, Onthophagus taurus, females provide care to offspring by provisioning a brood mass. The size of the brood mass has pronounced effects on offspring phenotype. Using a half-sib breeding design we show that the weight of the brood mass females produce exhibits significant levels of additive genetic variance due to sires. However, variance caused by dams is considerably larger, demonstrating that maternal effects are also important. Body size exhibited low additive genetic variance. However, body size exerts a strong maternal influence on the weight of brood masses produced, accounting for 22% of the nongenetic variance in offspring body size. Maternal body size also influenced the number of offspring produced but there was no genetic variance for this trait. Offspring body size and brood mass weight exhibited positive genetic and phenotypic correlations. We conclude that both indirect genetic effects, via maternal care, and nongenetic maternal effects, via female size, play important roles in the evolution of phenotype in this species.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6828-6832
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2002

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'The genetics of maternal care: Direct and indirect genetic effects on phenotype in the dung beetle Onthophagus taurus'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this