Maternal presence facilitates plasticity in offspring behavior: Insights into the evolution of parental care

Kirke L. Munch, Daniel W.A. Noble, Luke Budd, Aryana Row, Erik Wapstra, Geoffrey M. While*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Fundamental to the definition of parental care is that care confers benefits to the offspring. However, the mechanisms resulting in these benefits remain poorly understood, particularly in species where postnatal care is not obligatory. Here, we address this shortcoming using a lizard, Liopholis whitii, in which family life is facultative and relatively simple-extending to prolonged associations between parents and offspring within the parental territory. Using a split-clutch design, we housed offspring either with their mother or alone during the first 8 weeks of postnatal life and examined whether maternal presence affected 1) the expression of key functional behaviors and 2) learning ability in a biologically relevant antipredatory task. We found that offspring housed with their mothers expressed heightened levels of activity, boldness, and exploration compared with offspring who were housed alone. Furthermore, we show that associating with mothers during early postnatal periods led to improved offspring performance in the antipredation learning task. Together these results suggest that even relatively simple forms of enhanced parent-offspring association can have significant impacts on offspring traits. We argue that such effects may help refine and stabilize parent-offspring associations early in their evolution, potentially setting the stage for the elaboration of both parent and offspring behaviors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1298-1306
Number of pages9
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes


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