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Male-only parental care, while rare in most animals, is a widespread strategy within teleost fish. The costs and benefits to males of acting as sole carer are highly variable among fish species making it challenging to determine the selective pressures driving the evolution of male-only care to such a high prevalence. We conducted a phylogenetic meta-analysis to examine the costs and benefits of paternal care across fish species. We found no evidence that providing care negatively affects male condition. In contrast with other taxa, we also found limited evidence that male care has evolved as a strategy to improve offspring survival. Instead, we found that males already caring for a brood are preferred by females and that this preference is strongest in those species in which males work harder to care for larger broods. Thus, in fish, investment in offspring care does not constrain a male's mating success but rather augments it, suggesting that the relatively high prevalence of male-only care in fish may be in part explained by sexual selection through female preference for caring males.

Original publication




Journal article


Proc Biol Sci

Publication Date





female choice, fish, parental care, paternal care, phylogenetic meta-analysis, sexual selection