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Social immunity of the family: parental contributions to a public good modulated by brood size
- Duarte, Ana, Cotter, Sheena C., Reavey, Catherine E., Ward, Richard J. S., De Gasperin, Ornela, Kilner, Rebecca M.
- Evolutionary ecology 2016 v.30 no.1 pp. 123-135
- Nicrophorus vespilloides, breeding, dead animals, females, games, immunity, larvae, males, models, mothers, prediction, progeny, public services and goods
- Social immunity refers to any immune defence that benefits others, besides the individual that mounts the response. Since contributions to social immunity are known to be personally costly, they are contributions to a public good. However, individuals vary in their contributions to this public good and it is unclear why. Here we investigate whether they are responding to contributions made by others with experiments on burying beetle (Nicrophorus vespilloides) families. In this species, females, males and larvae each contribute to social immunity through the application of antimicrobial exudates upon the carrion breeding resource. We show experimentally that mothers reduce their contributions to social immunity when raising large broods, and test two contrasting hypotheses to explain why. Either mothers are treating social immunity as a public good, investing less in social immunity when their offspring collectively contribute more, or mothers are trading off investment in social immunity with investment in parental care. Overall, our experiments yield no evidence to support the existence of a trade-off between social immunity and other parental care traits: we found no evidence of a trade-off in terms of time allocated to each activity, nor did the relationship between social immunity and brood size change with female condition. Instead, and consistent with predictions from models of public goods games, we found that higher quality mothers contributed more to social immunity. Therefore our results suggest that mothers are playing a public goods game with their offspring to determine their personal contribution to the defence of the carrion breeding resource.