Cannibalism is virtually ubiquitous in nature and occurs in a wide variety of social and ecological contexts. Cannibalism of viable eggs, embryos, and young has been a pervasive force in the evolution of parental care and mating systems. Moreover, cannibalism during courtship and mating is of interest in understanding the evolution of reproductive behavior and mating systems, such as monogyny and male self-sacrifice. As a form of density-dependent mortality, cannibalism functions as a self-regulating mechanism in many populations. Such regulation in 'top' predators in communities can result in trophic cascades, in which the effects of cannibalism reverberate to the lowest trophic level. Finally, the evolution of cannibalism most likely represents a 'tradeoff between its benefits (e.g., nutrition and elimination of competitors) and its costs, measured in terms of risk of injury, acquisition of parasites and diseases, and potential detriment of a cannibal's inclusive fitness.

See also: Community; Parasites; Plant Demography.

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