Parental Care and Fecundity

By Madison246 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

OpenStax Biology 2e

Fecundity is the potential reproductive capacity of an individual within a population. In other words, fecundity describes how many offspring could ideally be produced if an individual has as many offspring as possible, repeating the reproductive cycle as soon as possible after the birth of the offspring. In animals, fecundity is inversely related to the amount of parental care given to an individual offspring. Species, such as many marine invertebrates, that produce many offspring usually provide little if any care for the offspring (they would not have the energy or the ability to do so anyway). Most of their energy budget is used to produce many tiny offspring. Animals with this strategy are often self-sufficient at a very early age. This is because of the energy tradeoff these organisms have made to maximize their evolutionary fitness. Because their energy is used for producing offspring instead of parental care, it makes sense that these offspring have some ability to be able to move within their environment and find food and perhaps shelter. Even with these abilities, their small size makes them extremely vulnerable to predation, so the production of many offspring allows enough of them to survive to maintain the species.

Animal species that have few offspring during a reproductive event usually give extensive parental care, devoting much of their energy budget to these activities, sometimes at the expense of their own health. This is the case with many mammals, such as humans, kangaroos, and pandas. The offspring of these species are relatively helpless at birth and need to develop before they achieve self-sufficiency.

Plants with low fecundity produce few energy-rich seeds (such as coconuts and chestnuts) with each having a good chance to germinate into a new organism; plants with high fecundity usually have many small, energy-poor seeds (like orchids) that have a relatively poor chance of surviving. Although it may seem that coconuts and chestnuts have a better chance of surviving, the energy tradeoff of the orchid is also very effective. It is a matter of where the energy is used, for large numbers of seeds or for fewer seeds with more energy.


Clark, M., Douglas, M., Choi, J. Biology 2e. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at:


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