Parents providing care must sometimes choose between rearing locations that are most favourable for offspring versus those that are most favourable for themselves. Here, we measured how both parental and offspring performance varied in nest sites distributed along an environmental gradient.
The plainfin midshipman fish
Porichthys notatusnests along a tidal gradient. When ascending from the subtidal to the high intertidal at low tide, both nest temperature and frequency of air exposure increase. We used one lab and two field experiments to investigate how parental nest site choices across tidal elevations are linked to the physiological costs incurred by parents and the developmental benefits accrued by offspring.
Under warmer incubation conditions, simulating high intertidal nests, offspring developed faster but had higher mortality rates compared to those incubated in cooler conditions that mimicked subtidal nests.
In the field, males in higher intertidal nests were more active caregivers, but their young still died at the fastest rates. Larger males claimed and retained low intertidal nests, where offspring survival and development rates were also highest.
Our results suggest that males compete more intensively for nest sites in the low intertidal, where they can raise their young quickly and with lower per‐offspring investments. Smaller, less‐competitive males forced into higher intertidal sites nest earlier in the season and provide more active parental care, possibly to bolster brood survival under harsh environmental conditions.