Monogamy to communal breeding: exploitation of a broad resource base by burying beetles (Nicrophorus)

TitleMonogamy to communal breeding: exploitation of a broad resource base by burying beetles (Nicrophorus)
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1992
AuthorsTrumbo ST
JournalEcological Entomology

1. To investigate the range of resource size that burying beetles (Nicrophorus) exploit, small (21-33g), medium (50-90g) and large (120-210g) carcasses, were placed in the field and then exhumed after 1,4,8,12 or 18 days. 2. Nicrophorus attempts to utilize carcasses over this entire size range but has greater success on smaller carcasses. 3. Larger carcasses were more difficult to exploit because: (a) they took longer to conceal beneath the leaf litter; (b) they were less likely to be rounded into brood balls; (c) they were more likely to be utilized by dipterans; and (d) they were occupied by greater numbers of congeners. 4. Larger carcasses, however, did support greater numbers of larvae and contained abroods of greater total mass than smaller carcasses. 5. Beetles sometimes bred communally on larger carcasses in the field and same-sex adults were observed to feed young. 6. Two follow-up experiments were conducted in the laboratory. On a large carcass N. defodiens, N. tomentosus or N. orbicollis can raise a maximum of 35-50 young. Nicrophorus pustulatus, in contrast, appears to be unique among Nicrophorus in that it can raise nearly 200 young on larger carcasses. 7. Nicrophorus orbicollis and Nicrophorus sayi are extremely dependent on parental regurgitations and young fail to survive to the second instar if parents are removed. Young of Nicrophorus defodiens, N. tomentosus and N. pustulatus can develop normally without parental regurgitations. 8. I discuss these results in the context of reproduction on carcasses of different size and hypothesize that this breeding system is facultatively quasisocial.