Maternal care, mother–offspring aggregation and age-dependent coadaptation in the European earwig

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Benefits and costs of parental care are expected to change with offspring development and lead to age-dependent coadaptation expressed as phenotypic (behavioural) matches between offspring age and parental reproductive stage. Parents and offspring interact repeatedly over time for the provision of parental care. Their behaviours should be accordingly adjusted to each other dynamically and adaptively, and the phenotypic match between offspring age and parental stage should stabilize the repeated behavioural interactions. In the European earwig (Forficula auricularia), maternal care is beneficial for offspring survival, but not vital, allowing us to investigate the extent to which the stability of mother–offspring aggregation is shaped by age-dependent coadaptation. In this study, we experimentally cross-fostered nymphs of different age classes (younger or older) between females in early or late reproductive stage to disrupt age-dependent coadaptation, thereby generating female–nymph dyads that were phenotypically matched or mismatched. The results revealed a higher stability in aggregation during the first larval instar when care is most intense, a steeper decline in aggregation tendency over developmental time and a reduced developmental rate in matched compared with mismatched families. Furthermore, nymph survival was positively correlated with female–nymph aggregation stability during the early stages when maternal care is most prevalent. These results support the hypothesis that age-related phenotypically plastic coadaptation affects family dynamics and offspring developmental rate.

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