Parental care is a widespread adaptation that evolved independently in a broad range of taxa. Although the dynamics by which two parents meet the developmental needs of offspring are well studied in birds, we lack understanding about the temporal and spatial complexity of parental care in taxa exhibiting female-only care, the predominant mode of parental care. Thus, we examined the behavioral and physiological mechanisms by which female water pythons Liasis fuscus meet a widespread developmental need (thermoregulation) in a natural setting. Although female L. fuscus were not facultatively thermogenic, they did use behaviors on multiple spatial scales (e.g., shifts in egg-brooding postures and surface activity patterns) to balance the thermal needs of their offspring throughout reproduction (gravidity and egg brooding). Maternal behaviors in L. fuscus varied by stage within reproduction and were mediated by interindividual variation in body size and fecundity. Female pythons with relatively larger clutch sizes were cooler during egg brooding, suggesting a trade-off between reproductive quantity (size of clutch) and quality (developmental temperature). In nature, caregiving parents of all taxa must navigate both extrinsic factors (temporal and spatial complexity) and intrinsic factors (body size and fecundity) to meet the needs of their offspring. Our study used a comprehensive approach that can be used as a general template for future research examining the dynamics by which parents meet other developmental needs.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Animal Science and Zoology