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Everybody needs somebody: unequal parental effort in little penguins


  • Claire Saraux
  • André Chiaradia
  • Yvon Le Maho
  • Yan Ropert-Coudert


According to life-history theory, individuals optimize their decisions in order to maximize their fitness. This raises a conflict between parents, which need to cooperate to ensure the propagation of their genes but at the same time need to minimize the associated costs. Trading-off between benefits and costs of a reproduction is one of the major forces driving demographic trends and has shaped several different parental care strategies. Using little penguins (Eudyptula minor) as a model, we investigated whether individuals of a pair provide equal parental effort when raising offspring and whether their behavior was consistent over 8 years of contrasting resource availability. Using an automated identification system, we found that 72% of little penguin pairs exhibited unforced (i.e., that did not result from desertion of 1 parent) unequal partnership through the postguard stage. This proportion was lower in favorable years. Although being an equal pair appeared to be a better strategy, it was nonetheless the least often observed. Individuals that contributed less than their partner were not less experienced (measured by age), and gender did not explain differences between partners. Furthermore, birds that contributed little or that contributed a lot tended to be consistent in their level of contribution across years. We suggest that unequal effort during breeding may reflect differences in individual quality, and we encourage future studies on parental care to consider this consistent low and high contributor behavior when investigating differences in pair investment into its offspring. Copyright 2011, Oxford University Press.

Suggested Citation

  • Claire Saraux & André Chiaradia & Yvon Le Maho & Yan Ropert-Coudert, 2011. "Everybody needs somebody: unequal parental effort in little penguins," Behavioral Ecology, International Society for Behavioral Ecology, vol. 22(4), pages 837-845.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:beheco:v:22:y:2011:i:4:p:837-845

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