Paternal care is an evolutionary mystery. Despite extensive research, both theoretical and experimental, the reasons for its ubiquity remain unclear. Common explanations include kin selection and limited accuracy in parentage assessment. However, these explanations do not cover the breadth of circumstances in which paternal care has been observed, particularly in cases of uncertain paternity. Here we propose that microbes may play a key role in the evolution of paternal care among their hosts. Using computational models, we demonstrate that microbes associated with increased paternal care could be favoured by natural selection. We find that microbe-induced paternal care could evolve under wider conditions than suggested by genetic models. Moreover, we show that microbe-induced paternal care is more likely to evolve when considering paternal care interactions that increase microbial transmission, such as feeding and grooming. Our results imply that factors affecting the composition of host microbiome may also alter paternal behaviour.
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