Dads Care More for Early-Developing Embryos in Treefrogs

Jenn Hoskins
20th June, 2024

Dads Care More for Early-Developing Embryos in Treefrogs

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • The study took place in bamboo forests in Taiwan, focusing on the paternal care behaviors of the treefrog species Kurixalus eiffingeri
  • Male treefrogs provided more care to younger embryos, which are more vulnerable to predators
  • The presence of predators increased the level of care provided by male treefrogs
Parental care is a critical aspect of many species' reproductive strategies, balancing the benefits to offspring against the costs to parents. A recent study conducted by researchers at Tunghai University[1] has provided new insights into this balance by examining the paternal care behaviors of Kurixalus eiffingeri, an arboreal treefrog species. This study addresses the harm to offspring hypothesis, which posits that parents should invest more in younger offspring due to their increased vulnerability. This hypothesis has not been comprehensively tested until now, as previous studies often only showed a correlation between parental care and offspring age without directly testing the effects of offspring age on their susceptibility to predation. The researchers began their investigation with a field survey to monitor paternal care during the embryonic development of K. eiffingeri. This initial step helped establish a baseline understanding of how male treefrogs allocate their caregiving efforts over time. They then conducted a field experiment to assess the prevalence of egg predators, specifically the semi-slug Parmarion martensi, and to observe the plasticity of male care in response to these predators. Finally, a laboratory experiment was performed to determine how the age of the embryos affects their vulnerability to predation by P. martensi. The study found that male K. eiffingeri exhibited a higher level of care for younger embryos compared to older ones. This behavior aligns with the harm to offspring hypothesis, suggesting that younger offspring are indeed more vulnerable and thus require more parental investment. The field experiment revealed that the presence of P. martensi significantly influenced the level of care provided by the male frogs, demonstrating the plasticity of parental care in response to external threats. The laboratory experiment further confirmed that younger embryos were more susceptible to predation by P. martensi, supporting the idea that increased parental care for younger offspring is a strategic response to their higher vulnerability. These findings build on previous research that has explored the dynamics of parental care in various species. For instance, Williams's Principle, which has been formalized into the relative value theorem, suggests that the costs and benefits of parental care are weighed to optimize lifetime fitness[2]. In fishes, it is often the male that provides care, adjusting their investment based on factors such as the number of offspring and alternative mating opportunities. This principle is evident in the behavior of K. eiffingeri males, who modulate their care based on the age and vulnerability of their embryos. The study also resonates with findings from research on the lizard Eutropis longicaudata, which showed that maternal care can vary significantly within a species based on local selection pressures, such as predator abundance[3]. In both cases, the presence of predators plays a crucial role in shaping parental care strategies, highlighting the importance of external environmental factors in the evolution of such behaviors. Furthermore, the study's results align with observations in dendrobatid frogs, where parental behaviors such as tadpole transport are influenced by strategic planning and behavioral flexibility[4]. The plasticity observed in K. eiffingeri males, who adjust their care based on the presence of predators, mirrors the adaptive plasticity seen in other amphibian species. In conclusion, the study conducted by Tunghai University researchers provides robust evidence supporting the harm to offspring hypothesis. By demonstrating that younger embryos are more vulnerable to predation and that male K. eiffingeri adjust their care accordingly, this research advances our understanding of the evolutionary pressures shaping parental care strategies. It also underscores the significance of both intrinsic factors, such as offspring age, and extrinsic factors, like predator presence, in determining the optimal allocation of parental investment.

EcologyAnimal ScienceEvolution


Main Study

1) Paternal care plasticity: males care more for early- than late-developing embryos in an arboreal breeding treefrog

Published 19th June, 2024

Related Studies

2) The evolution of parental care.

Journal: The Quarterly review of biology, Issue: Vol 80, Issue 1, Mar 2005

3) Predation drives interpopulation differences in parental care expression.

4) Tadpole transport logistics in a Neotropical poison frog: indications for strategic planning and adaptive plasticity in anuran parental care.

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