Partner retention as a mechanism to reduce sexual conflict over care in a seabird

Kat Bebbington*, Ton G.G. Groothuis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


The costs of caring for offspring are predicted to lead to an evolutionary conflict between parents, where each parent benefits if the other provides most of the care. However, in many biparental species, breeding partners remain together for multiple breeding attempts and their respective future reproductive fitness prospects are therefore intertwined. Since an increase in current care by a long-term partner reduces that partner's future investment and longevity, individuals do not automatically only benefit when their partner provides care. We tested whether selection will favour individuals that reduce the burden of care falling on long-term partners, thus decreasing evolutionary conflict over parental care. Using a seminatural, captive colony of black-headed gulls, Chroicocephalus ridibundus, we show that benefits of long-term partner retention can indeed reduce sexual conflict. Long-term partners had less intense courtships and were more behaviourally compatible, and individuals in long-term pairs spared each other's resources by increasing their own parental investment compared to those with new partners. Lastly, we demonstrate that high partner compatibility in newly formed pairs can select for commitment to the pair bond. Our results highlight that compatibility benefits of long-term partnerships can increase selection for mate retention and increase parental investment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-26
Number of pages12
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2023


  • black-headed gull
  • courtship
  • mate familiarity
  • parental care
  • reproduction
  • sexual conflict


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