Maternal manipulation of hatching asynchrony limits sibling cannibalism in the predatory mite Phytoseiulus persimilis

P. Schausberger, D. Hoffmann

1. Sibling cannibalism is a common phenomenon in the animal kingdom but entails a high risk of direct and inclusive fitness loss for the mother and her offspring. Therefore, mechanisms limiting sibling cannibalism are expected to be selected for. One way of maternal manipulation of sibling cannibalism is to influence hatching asynchrony between nearby laid eggs. This has rarely been tested experimentally.

2. We examined the ability of ovipositing females of the cannibalistic predatory mite Phytoseiulus persimilis to influence the occurrence of sibling cannibalism among offspring by manipulating hatching asynchrony of nearby laid eggs.

3. In the first experiment, we assessed the occurrence of sibling cannibalism in relation to the hatching interval (24 h and 48 h) between nearby laid eggs. In the second experiment, we tested whether ovipositing females discriminate sites containing young (24-h old) and old (48-h old) eggs, fresh and old traces (metabolic waste products and possibly pheromones) left by the same female (24 h and 48 h ago), or young eggs plus fresh female traces and old eggs plus old female traces. Both experiments were conducted with and without prey.

4. Without prey, siblings were more likely to cannibalize each other if the hatching interval between nearby laid eggs was short (24 h). Cannibalism occurred less often when senior siblings (protonymphs) experienced a delay in the opportunity to cannibalize junior siblings (larvae).

5. Independent of prey availability, females preferentially added new eggs to sites containing old eggs plus old female traces but did neither distinguish between young and old eggs presented without own traces nor between fresh and old traces presented without eggs.

6. We discuss cue perception and use by P. persimilis females and contrast the outcome of our experiments and theoretical predictions of sibling cannibalism. We conclude that P. persimilis mothers increase hatching asynchrony of nearby laid eggs to prevent sibling cannibalism on the last produced offspring. Such a behaviour may be considered a simple form of maternal care increasing the survival prospects of offspring.

External organisation(s)
Universität für Bodenkultur Wien
Journal of Animal Ecology
No. of pages
Publication date
Peer reviewed
Austrian Fields of Science 2012
106047 Animal ecology, 106051 Behavioural biology
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