Expressing parental care after oviposition or parturition is usually an obligate (evolved) trait within a species, despite evolutionary theory predicting that widespread species should vary in whether or not they express parental care according to local selection pressures. The lizard Eutropis longicaudata expresses maternal care only in a single population throughout its large geographical range, but why this pattern occurs is unknown. We used reciprocal translocation and predator exclusion experiments to test whether this intraspecific variation is a fixed trait within populations and whether predator abundance explains this perplexing pattern. Wild-caught female lizards that were reciprocally translocated consistently guarded or abandoned eggs in line with their population of origin. By contrast, most lizards raised in a common garden environment and subsequently released as adults adopted the maternal care strategy of the recipient population, even when the parents originated from a population lacking maternal care. Egg predation represents a significant fitness cost in the populations where females display egg-guarding behaviour, but guarding eggs outweighs this potential cost by increasing hatching success. These results imply that predators can be a driving force in the expression of parental care in instances where it is normally absent and that local selection pressure is sufficient to cause behavioural divergence in whether or not parental care is expressed.
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