Sunday, 30 September 2018

Neglected baby beetles evolve greater self-reliance

September 28, 2018, University of Cambridge

In gardens, parks and woods across the UK, the Sexton burying beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides quietly buries dead mice and other small vertebrates to create edible nests for their young.

Most parents remove the animal's hair and slash the flesh of the carcass to help their newly-hatched larvae crawl inside. Typically they also stay on to defend and feed them, but levels of care vary and larvae can survive without their parents.

In a laboratory in Cambridge's Zoology Department, researchers exploited the insect's unusual natural history to establish two starkly different experimental populations and explore how parental behaviour drives evolution.

The study, published on 28 September in the journal Nature Communications, shows that larvae evolve distinctive adaptations in response to the different levels of parental care.

The scientists behind the research exposed hundreds of beetles to two levels of parental care, for 13 generations. In a No Care environment, parents were removed as soon as they had prepared their mouse carcass nest but before their larvae had hatched. By contrast, in the Control environment, the parents were allowed to care for their young until they were ready to leave home.

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