Adaptive secondary sex ratio adjustments via sex-specific infanticide in a bird

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Abstract

Infanticide is easiest to understand when it involves killing the offspring of others [1], but a parent may also kill its own offspring if the sacrifice of currently dependent young leads to higher survival of brood mates [2] or an improvement in the parent's likely future reproduction [3]. However, sex-specific infanticide by parents of their own offspring, although occurring in some human societies [4], is rare across species. Its rarity may be because killing one sex combines wasted parental effort with consequent biases in population sex ratios that are detrimental for the fitness of the overproduced sex [5-7]. We show that killing male offspring can be advantageous to Eclectus parrot (Eclectus roratus) mothers even though frequency-dependent selection then elevates the reproductive value of sons above that of daughters. In poorer-quality nest hollows, broods with a single female nestling had higher reproductive value than broods in which the female had a younger brother. Our data demonstrate frequent targeted removal of male nestlings within 3 days of hatching in these specific brood types and nesting conditions. The ability of Eclectus parrots to perceive the sex of their offspring relatively early may favor decisions to kill one sex before further investment in parental care. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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Heinsohn, R., Langmore, N. E., Cockburn, A., & Kokko, H. (2011). Adaptive secondary sex ratio adjustments via sex-specific infanticide in a bird. Current Biology, 21(20), 1744–1747. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2011.08.064

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