Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

This study empirically tests two foundation ecological theories: (1) pack hunting is a driver for the evolution of sociality; and (2) species have a finite energy potential, whereby increased maintenance costs result in decreased reproductive effort. Using activity and prey data from 22 packs of African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus), we parameterized a model detailing the energetic cost/benefit of cooperative hunting. Larger pack size increased foraging time, prey size, and capture probability while reducing chase distance, resulting in a rapidly increasing net rate of energy intake up to a pack size of five, which peaked at 10 individuals and then declined. With a streamlined body plan necessary for hypercursoriality limiting stomach capacity in smaller packs, it was demonstrated that the group hunting benefit will rather accrue to widely foraging predators than to "sit-and-wait" ones. Reproductive effort, measured by the number of pups born, revealed smaller litters with decreasing pack size, validated finite energy theory, and highlighted a "poverty trap" where smaller groups have lower foraging gains, smaller litters, and increased vulnerability to extirpation. Consequently, these results demonstrated a mechanistic example of pervasive selection for maximal body size (Cope's rule), leading to a macroevolutionary ratchet, where sociality linked to hypercursoriality is betrayed by an Achilles' heel.

Original publication




Journal article


Am Nat

Publication Date





508 - 518


Animals, Animals, Wild, Behavior, Animal, Canidae, Ecosystem, Models, Biological, Social Behavior, Zimbabwe