Paternal investment with an uncertain future: effects of predator exposure on filial cannibalism and nesting behaviour

Nicholas D S Deal, Topi K Lehtonen, Kai Lindström, Bob Wong

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3 Citations (Scopus)


Owing to trade-offs between investment in current and future reproduction, factors that diminish a parent's survival prospects, such as predation threat, are expected to increase investment in existing young. Nevertheless, effects of predation risk on parental investment have only rarely been examined, and not at all within the context of filial cannibalism (parental consumption of their own offspring). We examined filial cannibalism and nest characteristics in a small fish with paternal egg care, the sand goby, Pomatoschistus minutus, both when exposed to a common piscivore, the perch, Perca fluviatilis, and in the absence of predators. We found that when males consumed only some of their eggs (partial filial cannibalism), the number of eaten eggs did not depend on predation threat, possibly indicating that partial clutch consumption is largely motivated by benefits to existing young. Total filial cannibalism (whole clutch consumption) was marginally less common under predator exposure, while its strongest predictor was small clutch size. This suggests that the return on parental investment has a greater influence on total filial cannibalism than the likelihood of future breeding. Regarding nest architecture, males that consumed their entire brood after exposure to a predator built larger nest entrances, possibly to facilitate predator evasion. Males that cared for at least part of their brood, however, maintained small nest entrances regardless of predation threat. Furthermore, more elaborate nests were not associated with greater egg consumption, suggesting that filial cannibalism is not employed to sustain nest building.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)81-90
Number of pages10
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2017


  • brood care
  • filial cannibalism
  • nest predator
  • parental investment
  • predation risk
  • residual reproductive value

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