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Familiarity plays an important role in the evolution of sociality and cooperation. Familiar individuals may gain a reputation for participating in, or defecting from, cooperative tasks. Previous research suggests that long-term familiarity with territorial neighbours benefits breeders. We tested the hypothesis that great tits (Parus major) are more likely to join in neighbours' nest defence if those neighbours are familiar from the previous year. We show that neighbours that shared a territory boundary the previous year are more likely to join their neighbours' nest defence than neighbours that did not share a boundary before. Closer neighbours did not differ from distant neighbours in their latency to join. For familiar neighbours that joined, there was no difference in call rate in relation to whether one or both members of the focal pair were familiar. First-time breeders (by definition unfamiliar) did not join each other's nest defence. This is the first evidence of a relationship between familiarity and joining in nest defence. Such direct benefits of familiarity may have important implications in the evolution of sociality.

Original publication




Journal article


Biol Lett

Publication Date





544 - 546


Animals, Cooperative Behavior, Nesting Behavior, Passeriformes, Proportional Hazards Models, Recognition (Psychology), Social Behavior, Social Environment, Species Specificity, Territoriality, Time Factors