Direct fitness benefits and kinship of social foraging groups in an Old World tropical babbler

Behavioral Ecology
By: , and 



Molecular studies have revealed that social groups composed mainly of nonrelatives may be widespread in group-living vertebrates, but the benefits favoring such sociality are not well understood. In the Old World, birds often form conspecific foraging groups that are maintained year-round and offspring usually disperse to other social groups. We tested the hypothesis that nonbreeding group members are largely unrelated and gain direct fitness benefits through breeding opportunities (males) and brood parasitism (females) in the tropical gray-throated babbler, Stachyris nigriceps, in Malaysian Borneo. Babblers foraged in social groups containing one or more breeding pairs (median = 8 group members of equal sex ratio), but group members rarely assisted with breeding (9% of 67 breeding pairs had a third helper; exhibiting facultative cooperative breeding). Although 20% of 266 group member dyads were first-order relatives of one or both members of the breeding pairs, 80% were unrelated. Male group members gained direct fitness benefits through extrapair and extra-group paternity (25% of 73 offspring), which was independent of their relatedness to the breeding pair and increased with decreasing group size. In contrast, females did not gain direct fitness benefits through brood parasitism. The low levels of relatedness and helping in social groups suggest that most group members do not gain indirect fitness benefits by helping to raise unrelated offspring. These findings highlight the importance of examining benefits of sociality for unrelated individuals that largely do not help and broaden the direct fitness benefits of group foraging beyond assumed survival benefits.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Direct fitness benefits and kinship of social foraging groups in an Old World tropical babbler
Series title Behavioral Ecology
DOI 10.1093/beheco/arx196
Volume 29
Issue 2
Year Published 2018
Language English
Publisher Oxford Academic
Contributing office(s) Coop Res Unit Seattle
Description 11 p.
First page 468
Last page 478
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