Ethological principles predict the neuropeptides co-opted to influence parenting


Ethologists predicted that parental care evolves by modifying behavioural precursors in the asocial ancestor. As a corollary, we predict that the evolved mechanistic changes reside in genetic pathways underlying these traits. Here we test our hypothesis in female burying beetles, Nicrophorus vespilloides, an insect where caring adults regurgitate food to begging, dependent offspring. We quantify neuropeptide abundance in brains collected from three behavioural states: solitary virgins, individuals actively parenting or post-parenting solitary adults and quantify 133 peptides belonging to 18 neuropeptides. Eight neuropeptides differ in abundance in one or more states, with increased abundance during parenting in seven. None of these eight neuropeptides have been associated with parental care previously, but all have roles in predicted behavioural precursors for parenting. Our study supports the hypothesis that predictable traits and pathways are targets of selection during the evolution of parenting and suggests additional candidate neuropeptides to study in the context of parenting.

Nature Communications 8, 14225