He’s cute, but will he care for the kids?

YALE (US)—Bright feathers and fetching displays are par for the course in the animal kingdom’s version of the dating game, but do such showy “advertisements” really deliver when it comes to caring for offspring? New research from Yale University suggests they do—at least when it’s a matter of survival.

Natasha Kelly, a graduate student in ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale and lead author of a study that appeared this month online in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, says previous research suggests that, under certain circumstances, males could be dishonest about their parenting skills and still have high reproductive success.

The peacock’s tail—or the primping guy at the bar—for example, are mating displays that take substantial effort to maintain, draining energy away from the male’s ability to care for offspring. However, the new findings suggest that may not be a problem after all.

The researchers examined the reliability of males’ mating signals when they must care for offspring. There are many species where males should, but do not need to, provide parental care—where females pick up the slack. The Yale researchers focused on species where females can’t pick up the slack and where males pay the price for not providing care.

“This new work shows that when males can not escape the cost of their own failure to provide care, their advertisements will always be reliable,” says principal investigator Suzanne Alonzo, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale.

“The qualifier in this case is where males are obligated to provide care,” says Kelly. “In that case, the quiet guy in the corner might be the better choice for fatherhood.”

The National Science Foundation and Yale University funded this research.

Yale University news: http://opa.yale.edu/