Environmental factors can determine which group size will maximize the fitness of group members. This is particularly important in cooperative breeders, where group members often serve different purposes. Experimental studies are yet lacking to check whether ecologically mediated need for help will change the propensity of dominant group members to accept immigrants. Here, we manipulated the perceived risk of predation for dominant breeders of the cooperatively breeding cichlid fish Neolamprologus pulcher to test their response to unrelated and previously unknown immigrants. Potential immigrants were more readily accepted if groups were exposed to fish predators or egg predators than to herbivorous fish or control situations lacking predation risk. Our data are consistent with both risk dilution and helping effects. Egg predators were presented before spawning, which might suggest that the fish adjust acceptance rates also to a potential future threat. Dominant group members of N. pulcher apparently consider both present and future need of help based on ecological demand. This suggests that acceptance of immigrants and, more generally, tolerance of group members on demand could be a widespread response to ecological conditions in cooperatively breeding animals.
- Received November 21, 2012.
- Accepted January 10, 2013.
- © 2013 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.