Multiple benefits drive helping behavior in a cooperatively breeding bird: an integrated analysis

Sjouke Kingma, Michelle Hall, Anne Peters

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Several hypotheses exist to explain the seemingly altruistic helping behavior of cooperative breeders, although the general utility of these hypotheses remains unclear. While the potential importance of inclusive fitness benefits (kin selection) is traditionally widely appreciated, it is increasingly recognized that direct benefits may be more important than assumed. We use an integrative two-step framework to assess support for current hypotheses in purple-crowned fairy wrens, a species where subordinates vary in relatedness to breeders and helping increases productivity. After establishing that assumptions of pay-to-stay and social prestige hypotheses (predicting that helping functions as paying rent to stay on the territory or as a signal of individual quality, respectively) were not met and that parentage by subordinates is extremely rare, we tested whether subordinates adjusted nestling feeding rates following the predictions of the kin selection and group augmentation hypotheses. Benefits of kin selection result from investment in relatives, and group augmentation benefits accrue when subordinates invest more in their own future helpers, for example, when they have a better chance of inheriting the breeding position. We found that subordinates fed siblings more than unrelated nestlings, indicating that kin selection could facilitate cooperation. Moreover, the effect of relatedness on feeding effort varied depending on the probability of inheriting a breeding position, suggesting that active group augmentation can explain investment by unrelated subordinates. This statistical interaction would have gone undetected had we not considered both factors simultaneously, illustrating that a focus on single hypotheses could lead to underestimation of their importance in explaining cooperative breeding
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)486 - 495
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Volume177
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2011

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