How mate availability influences filial cannibalism

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8 Citations (Scopus)


Parents sometimes eat their young to reduce the consequences of brood overcrowding, for nutritional gain, and/or to redirect investment toward future reproduction. It has been predicted that filial cannibalism should be more prevalent when mate availability is high as parents can more easily replace consumed young. Reviewing the available evidence—which comes almost exclusively from studies of paternal caring fish—we find support in some species, but not others. To explain this, we hypothesize that sexual selection against filial cannibalism and/or the tendency to acquire larger broods under conditions of high mate availability discourages filial cannibalism. Additionally, filial cannibalism might occur when mate availability is low to facilitate survival until access to mates improves. Since attractiveness can also influence remating opportunities, we review its effect on filial cannibalism, finding that attractive parents engage in less filial cannibalism. More research is needed to determine if this relationship is a result of individuals showing adaptive plasticity in filial cannibalism based on self-perceived attractiveness, or if the attractiveness of individuals is reduced by their propensity to commit filial cannibalism. More generally, to advance our understanding of how mate availability influences filial cannibalism, future studies should also focus on a wider range of taxa.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)47-67
Number of pages21
JournalQuarterly Review of Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2016


  • Filial cannibalism
  • Infanticide
  • Mate choice
  • Parental care
  • Sex ratio
  • Sexual selection

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