Testing the environmental buffering hypothesis of cooperative breeding in the Seychelles warbler

Borger, Mirjam J., Richardson, David S. ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-7226-9074, Dugdale, Hannah, Burke, Terry and Komdeur, Jan (2023) Testing the environmental buffering hypothesis of cooperative breeding in the Seychelles warbler. acta ethologica, 26 (3). pp. 211-224. ISSN 0873-9749

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Species are facing environmental challenges caused by rapidly changing environments. Globally, extreme weather events, like droughts or extreme rainfall, are increasing in frequency. Natural selection usually acts slowly, while adaptations through phenotypic plasticity are limited. Therefore, organisms may utilise other mechanisms to cope with such rapid change. Cooperative breeding is hypothesised to be one such mechanism, as helpers could increase survival probabilities of offspring, especially in harsh years. Rainfall is a cue for onset of breeding in many tropical species, to ensure young are born when food abundance is highest. Using 21 years of data, we investigate the effect of rainfall on social behaviour and life history in the insectivorous Seychelles warbler (Acrocephalus sechellensis), a facultative cooperative breeder. We found that low rainfall is associated with reduced reproductive output and possibly with decreased survival. However, there were no statistical differences in response between groups with helpers, groups with only non-helping subordinates, and breeding pairs without subordinates. With low rainfall, more sons (the sex less likely to help) were produced, and those subordinate males already present were less likely to help. Thus, in contrast to expectations, cooperative breeding does not seem to buffer against harsh environments in Seychelles warblers, indicating that group living may be costly and thus not a mechanism for coping with changing environments. Our study showed that the interaction between the environment and life histories, including social behaviour, is complex, but that this interaction is important to consider when studying the impact of changing environments on species survival.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: Funding Information: MJB was funded by ALW-NWO Grant No. ALWOP.531 awarded to JK and DSR. The long-term data gathering that enabled this study was supported by various NERC grants: NE/B504106/1, to TAB and DSR, NE/I021748/1 to HLD, NE/P011284/1 to HLD and DSR, and NE/F02083X/1 and NE/K005502/1 to DSR; as well as a NWO Rubicon No. 825.09.013, Lucie Burgers Foundation and KNAW Schure Beijerinck Popping grant SBP2013/04 to HLD, NWO visitors grant 040.11.232 to JK and HLD, and NWO TOP grant 854.11.003 and NWO VICI 823.01.014 to JK.
Uncontrolled Keywords: cooperation,environmental change,life history,offspring sex ratio bias,seychelles warbler,ecology, evolution, behavior and systematics,animal science and zoology ,/dk/atira/pure/subjectarea/asjc/1100/1105
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Science > School of Biological Sciences
UEA Research Groups: Faculty of Science > Research Centres > Centre for Ecology, Evolution and Conservation
Faculty of Science > Research Groups > Organisms and the Environment
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Depositing User: LivePure Connector
Date Deposited: 16 Feb 2023 15:30
Last Modified: 28 Oct 2023 01:20
URI: https://ueaeprints.uea.ac.uk/id/eprint/91162
DOI: 10.1007/s10211-022-00408-y

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