Dr. Megan Head of the University of Exeter in England said the study found mature males, who had little chance of reproducing again, invested more effort in both mating and in parental care than younger males.
Male perception of paternity was manipulated in the study by allowing the odors of competitor males to linger in the mating chamber, Head said.
Males mating in an environment filled with the odors of other males had lower assurance of paternity than males that mated with females in an environment that did not smell of other males.
Parental care was measured by the amount of time males spent with offspring. Burying beetles have surprisingly complex parental care, which is similar to that provided by birds, such as robins or blackbirds.
The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B, found older males were good fathers and looked after the young even when they were unsure whether the offspring were theirs. Younger males, who had a higher chance of reproducing again, tended to care less for offspring, particularly when they were uncertain of their paternity.
The results support the hypothesis that in species with paternal care, fathers are expected to balance investment in future reproduction with care for current offspring to maximize their lifetime reproductive success.