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Parental cooperation in an extreme hot environment: natural behaviour and experimental evidence

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Alrashidi, M., Kosztolányi, A., Shobrak, M., Küpper, C., & Székely, T. (2011). Parental cooperation in an extreme hot environment: natural behaviour and experimental evidence. Animal Behaviour, 82(2), 235-243. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2011.04.019.

One of the most apparent examples of cooperation between unrelated individuals is biparental care whereby the male and the female parent share the rearing of the offspring. Theoretical models of care predict that selection should favour biparental care if it substantially improves the survival of the offspring. Although various ecological factors have been proposed to necessitate biparental care, experimental evidence is scant given the challenges of manipulating ecological factors in the natural habitat of animals. We carried out one such experiment in a small shorebird, the Kentish plover, Charadrius alexandrinus, that breeds in an extreme desert environment. Nest cover and thus exposure to solar radiation vary between nests, and we show that parents at exposed nests spent more time incubating than those at nests shaded by a bush (covered nests). Experimental removal and supplementation of nest cover gave results consistent with the observational data; at experimentally exposed nests both males and females increased incubation effort and relieved each other more frequently whereas at experimentally covered nests we observed the opposite. We conclude that exposure to extreme solar radiation influences biparental care and this necessitates parental cooperation in the Kentish plover. Furthermore, since parental care often coevolves with mating strategies, we conjecture that where the environment puts less pressure on the parents and provides the opportunity for reduced care, both mating systems and parental care can diversify over evolutionary time. (C) 2011 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.