Royal Society Publishing

Predation risk is an ecological constraint for helper dispersal in a cooperatively breeding cichlid

D. Heg, Z. Bachar, L. Brouwer, M. Taborsky

Abstract

Environmental conditions are thought to be responsible for the extent and benefits of cooperative breeding in many animal societies, but experimental tests are scarce. We manipulated predator pressure in the cooperatively breeding cichlid Neolamprologus pulcher in Lake Tanganyika, where predators have been suggested to influence helper and breeder survival, helper dispersal and group reproductive success. We varied the type and intensity of predation by releasing medium, large, or no predators inside large underwater cages enclosing two or three group territories. Helper and breeder survival, helper dispersal and group reproductive success decreased from the control, to the medium– and large–predator treatments. These effects were modified by helper body size and the number of adults protecting the group from predators, supporting the ‘group augmentation hypothesis’. Predators forced helpers to stay closer to, and spend more time inside, protective shelters. The results demonstrate the importance of predators for group living in this species, and support the ‘ecological constraints hypothesis’ of cooperative breeding, in the sense that subordinates stay at home rather than leave and breed independently under the risk of predation.

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