CIE Spotlight: The relative importance of spatial proximity, kin selection and potential ‘greenbeard’ signals on provisioning behaviour among helpers in a cooperative bird

Lee Ann R.

Lee Ann R.

Title: The relative importance of spatial proximity, kin selection and potential ‘greenbeard’ signals on provisioning behaviour among helpers in a cooperative bird

Authors: McDonald, Paul G.; Rollins, Lee Ann; Godfrey, Stephanie

Source: BEHAVIORAL ECOLOGY AND SOCIOBIOLOGY, 70 (1):133-143, JAN 2016

Brief summary of the paper: Many hypotheses have been proposed to account for cooperative behaviour, with those favouring kin selection receiving the greatest support to date. However, the importance of relatedness becomes less clear in complex societies where interactions can involve both kin and non-kin.

To help clarify this, we examined the relative effect of indirect versus key direct benefit hypotheses in shaping cooperative decisions. We assessed the relative importance of likely reciprocal aid (as measured by spatial proximity between participants), kin selection (using molecular-based relatedness indices) and putative signals of relatedness (vocal similarity) on helper/helper cooperative provisioning dynamics in bell miners (Manorina melanophrys), a species living in large, complex societies.

Using network analysis, we quantified the extent of shared provisioning (helping at the same nests) among individual helpers (excluding breeding pairs) over three seasons and 4290 provisioning visits, and compared these with the location of individuals within a colony and networks built using either genetic molecular relatedness or call similarity indices.

Significant levels of clustering were observed in networks; individuals within a cluster were more closely related to each other than other colony members, and cluster membership was stable across years. The probability of a miner helping at another’s nest was not simply a product of spatial proximity and thus the potential for reciprocal aid.

Networks constructed using helping data were significantly correlated to those built using molecular data in 5 of 10 comparisons, compared to 8 of 10 comparisons for networks constructed using call similarity.

This suggests an important role of kinship in shaping helping dynamics in a complex cooperative society, apparently determined via an acoustic ‘greenbeard’ signal in this system.