Investment of group members is contingent on helper number and the presence of young in a cooperative breeder

Josi, Dario; Taborsky, Michael; Frommen, Joachim G. (2020). Investment of group members is contingent on helper number and the presence of young in a cooperative breeder. Animal behaviour, 160, pp. 35-42. Elsevier Ltd. 10.1016/j.anbehav.2019.11.013

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In cooperatively breeding societies dominant breeders are assisted by other individuals in raising their young. In many of these species helping behaviours and their benefits for breeders have been studied by investigating the helpers' contribution to direct offspring care, even though a significant proportion of help is not targeted specifically to offspring. Here, we investigated how breeders and helpers share the effort in shelter maintenance and how their investment is influenced by the presence of dependent young in the cooperatively breeding cichlid Neolamprologus savoryi. Shelters provide essential protection from predators, independently of a group's breeding status. Shelter maintenance is costly in terms of time investment and energy expenditure. In the field we manipulated the workload of groups that differed in the presence and number of helpers and the reproductive state of breeders by increasing the need for digging out the breeding shelter. Helper presence correlated with workload reduction of dominant females, even in the absence of dependent young. This emphasizes the importance of shelters for the whole group, independently of the current reproductive status of the breeding pair. The described benefits increased with the number and body size of the helpers. Additionally, breeding females and helpers visited the breeding chamber more often if young were present, and helper presence enhanced the reproductive success of breeders. These findings highlight the importance of studying the role of helpers and their benefits to breeders not only in the context of direct brood care, but also for other cooperative tasks, in order to understand the evolution of complex animal societies.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Ecology and Evolution (IEE) > Behavioural Ecology
08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Ethological Station Hasli (Zoological Institute)

UniBE Contributor:

Josi, Dario; Taborsky, Michael and Frommen, Joachim Gerhard


500 Science > 590 Animals (Zoology)




Elsevier Ltd.


[42] Schweizerischer Nationalfonds ; [67] Burgergemeinde Bern




Dario Josi

Date Deposited:

31 Dec 2020 11:56

Last Modified:

31 Dec 2020 12:09

Publisher DOI:





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