Alloparental behaviour and long-term costs of mothers tolerating other members of the group in a plurally breeding mammal
Dugdale HL., Ellwood SA., Macdonald DW.
Cooperative-breeding studies tend to focus on a few alloparental behaviours in highly cooperative species exhibiting high reproductive skew and the associated short-term, but less frequently long-term, fitness costs. We analysed a suite of alloparental behaviours (assessed via filming) in a kin-structured, high-density population of plurally breeding European badgers, Meles meles, which are not highly cooperative. Group members, other than mothers, performed alloparental behaviour; however, this was not correlated with their relatedness to within-group young. Furthermore, mothers babysat, allogroomed cubs without reciprocation, and allomarked cubs more than other members of the group (controlling for observation time). For welfare reasons, we could not individually mark cubs; however, the number observed pre-independence never exceeded that trapped. All 24 trapped cubs, in three filmed groups, were assigned both parents using 22 microsatellites. Mothers may breed cooperatively, as the time they babysat their assigned, or a larger, litter size did not differ. Furthermore, two mothers probably allonursed, as they suckled more cubs than their assigned litter size. An 18-year genetic pedigree, however, detected no short-term (litter size; maternal survival to the following year) or long-term (offspring breeding probability; offspring lifetime breeding success) fitness benefits with more within-group mothers or other members of the group. Rather, the number of other members of the group (excluding mothers) correlated negatively with long-term fitness. Mothers may tolerate other members of the group, as nonbreeders undertook more digging. Our study highlights that alloparental care varies on a continuum from that seen in this high-density badger population, where alloparenting behaviour is minimal, through to species where alloparental care is common and provides fitness benefits. © 2010 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour.