Parental care results in a greater mutation load, for which it is also a phenotypic antidote.
Benevolent social behaviours, such as parental care, are thought to enable mildly deleterious mutations to persist. We tested this prediction experimentally using the burying beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides, an insect with biparental care. For 20 generations, we allowed replicate experimental burying beetle populations to evolve either with post-hatching care ('Full Care' populations) or without it ('No Care' populations). We then established new lineages, seeded from these experimental populations, which we inbred to assess their mutation load. Outbred lineages served as controls. We also tested whether the deleterious effects of a greater mutation load could be concealed by parental care by allowing half the lineages to receive post-hatching care, while half did not. We found that inbred lineages from the Full Care populations went extinct more quickly than inbred lineages from the No Care populations-but only when offspring received no post-hatching care. We infer that Full Care lineages carried a greater mutation load, but that the associated deleterious effects on fitness could be overcome if larvae received parental care. We suggest that the increased mutation load caused by parental care increases a population's dependence upon care. This could explain why care is seldom lost once it has evolved.
Funder: Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BB/R01115X/1)