Allen Moore, associate dean for research in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, was quoted in Science magazine about a recent study regarding burying beetles.
Unlike most other bugs, which abandon their eggs almost immediately after laying them, the burying beetles protect and feed their young until they are big enough to fend for themselves. But an evolutionary biologist at the University of Cambridge has been altering the family dynamic for lab-reared beetles. Half the time, they remove the female after her eggs are laid, and half the time they leave the family intact. The team repeats the experiment over and over and monitors each generation for physical and behavioral changes. After 30 generations, the motherless beetle larvae evolved larger and stronger jaws. When larvae have to survive on their own, the ones with the biggest jaws are able to reach their meal, so they survived, and their young tend to have ever bigger jaws.
The work points out that the evolution of cooperation depends not only on how an individual changes through time, but also how the individuals interact with change, according to Moore, who also is Distinguished Research Professor of Genetics.
“We are social and so group composition matters for our evolution as well,” said Moore, who was not involved in the study. “The parents’ behavior depends on what the babies are doing, not just what the parents are doing.”