More than kin: Subordinates foster strong bonds with relatives and potential mates in a social bird

Niki Teunissen, Sjouke A Kingma, Michelle Louise Hall, Nataly Alexandra Hidalgo Aranzamendi, Jan Komdeur, Anne Peters

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13 Citations (Scopus)


Social interactions shape relationships between individuals in complex societies. Affiliative interactions are associated with benefits and strengthen social bonds, while aggressive interactions are costly and negatively affect social bonds. Individuals may attempt to reduce aggressive encounters through submissive displays directed at higher-ranking individuals. Thus, fine-scale patterns of affiliative, aggressive, and submissive interactions may reflect costly and beneficial social relationships within groups, providing insight into the benefits of group living and the mechanisms of conflict resolution. So far, however, most studies have looked at social interactions and benefits of group living in isolation. We investigated how the strength of social bonds (affiliative vs. aggressive interactions) and submissive displays varied with kin-selected and potential mating benefits, and with reproductive conflict in the cooperatively breeding purple-crowned fairy-wren, Malurus coronatus. Our results revealed that subordinates formed equally strong social bonds with kin and potential mates (unrelated opposite-sex individuals) while they formed antagonistic relationships with reproductive competitors that offered no kin-selected or mating benefits (unrelated same-sex individuals). Submissive displays were directed exclusively at same-sex breeders, regardless of relatedness. Affiliation and submission were associated with reduced foraging time when food was limited, indicating a cost to maintaining positive relationships. Together, our results suggest that the strength of social bonds is determined by (potential) benefits obtained from group members, while submission likely serves to reduce conflict. Our findings highlight the importance of time-costly social interactions for maintaining relationships with group members, providing insight into how social groups of individuals with (partly) divergent interests can remain stable.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1316-1324
Number of pages9
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018


  • Affiliation
  • Aggression
  • Cooperative breeding
  • Group living
  • Social interactions
  • Submission

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