Behavioural Ecology

Parental effects and transgenerational inheritance

Parents can contribute substantially to the early conditions experienced by offspring. They can alter egg composition by endowing eggs with nutrients, hormones, or maternal transcripts. And they may directly influence offspring behaviour and physioloy by providing brood care (see video below) and interacting in numerous ways with their offspring. Parents may benefit from using environmental cues to correctly forecast their offspring's environment during early development and to provision their young accordingly. However, parents may also compromise offspring fitness to the benefit of their own survival and reproductive success, giving rise to potential parent-offspring conflict. We investigate how mothers of Lake Tanganyika cichlids adjust egg size, egg composition including nutrients and maternal RNA transcripts to perceived predation risk and early social conditions, such as the size and composition of groups. Furthermore we investigate whether parental effects may be transmitted also to the grandparental and great-grandparental generations, and which behavioural and by epigenetic mechanisms are underlying such inheritance. Finally, we investigate the potential conflict between parents and offspring over offspring behavioural phenotype, which in social species may arise by a disagreement between parental need of help and offspring’s perception of the safety of their environment.

Principal investigator: Barbara Taborsky

Sample publications

Sharda, S., Zuest, T., Erb, M. & Taborsky, B. (2021). Predator-induced maternal effects determine adaptive antipredator behaviors via egg composition. PNAS 118, e2017063118

Stratmann, A. & Taborsky, B. (2014): Antipredator defences of young are independently determined by genetic inheritance, maternal effects and own early experience in mouthbrooding cichlids. Functional Ecology, 28, 944-953.

Kotrschal, A., Heckel, G. Bonfils, D. & Taborsky, B. (2012): Life-stage specific environments in a cichlid fish: implications for inducible maternal effects. Evolutionary Ecology 26, 123-137

Segers, F.H.I.D., Berishvili, G. & Taborsky, B. (2012): Egg size-dependent expression of growth hormone receptor accompanies compensatory growth in fish. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 279, 592-600.

Segers, F.H.I.D. & Taborsky, B. (2012): Juvenile exposure to predator cues induces a larger egg size in fish. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 279, 1241-1248.

Segers, F.H.I.D. & Taborsky, B. (2011): Egg size and food abundance interactively affect juvenile growth and behaviour. Functional Ecology 25, 166-176.

Segers, F.H.I.D., Gerber B. & Taborsky, B. (2011): Do maternal food deprivation and offspring predator cues interactively affect maternal effort in fish? Ethology 117, 708-721.

Taborsky, B., Skubic, E. & Bruintjes, R. (2007): Mothers adjust egg size to helper number in a cooperatively breeding cichlid. Behavioural Ecology, 18, 652-657.

Steinegger, M. & Taborsky, B. (2007): Asymmetric sexual conflict over parental care in a biparental cichlid. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 61, 933-941.

Taborsky, B. (2006): Mothers determine offspring size in response to own filial growth conditions. Biology Letters, 2, 225-228.

Schürch, R. & Taborsky, B. (2005): The functional significance of buccal feeding in the mouthbrooding cichlid, Tropheus moorii. Behaviour, 142, 265-281.


Egg cleaning by juveniles and adult female Neolamprologus pulcher, which prevents microbial overgrowth of eggs (video by Maria Reyes-Contreras).
A mouthbrooding female Simochromis pleurospilus collects her offspring into her mouth after a threat.
Egg sizes vary greatly in S. pleurospilus, with important implications for offspring fitness. Photos by F. Segers