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Parental care and filial cannibalism (the consumption of one's own offspring) co-occur in many animals. While parental care typically increases offspring survival, filial cannibalism involves the killing of one's young. Using an evolutionary ecology approach, we evaluate the importance of a range of factors on the evolution of parental care and filial cannibalism. Parental care, no care/total abandonment, and filial cannibalism evolved and often coexisted over a range of parameter space. While no single benefit was essential for the evolution of filial cannibalism, benefits associated with adult or offspring survival and/or reproduction facilitated the evolution of cannibalism. Our model highlights the plausibility of a range of alternative hypotheses. Specifically, the evolution of filial cannibalism was enhanced if (1) parents could selectively cannibalize lower-quality offspring, (2) filial cannibalism increased egg maturation rate, (3) energetic benefits of eggs existed, or (4) cannibalism increased a parent's reproductive rate (e.g., through mate attractiveness). Density-dependent egg survivorship alone did not favor the evolution of cannibalism. However, when egg survival was density dependent, filial cannibalism invaded more often when the density dependence was relatively more intense. Our results suggest that population-level resource competition potentially plays an important role in the evolution of both parental care and filial cannibalism.

Original publication




Journal article


Am Nat

Publication Date





886 - 901


Animals, Behavior, Animal, Biological Evolution, Birds, Cannibalism, Fishes, Insecta, Models, Biological, Ovum, Reproduction