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Factors influencing within-group conflict over defence against conspecific outsiders seeking breeding positions

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Article number20181669
Number of pages10
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1893
Early online date19 Dec 2018
DateAccepted/In press - 23 Nov 2018
DateE-pub ahead of print - 19 Dec 2018
DatePublished (current) - Dec 2018


In social species, groups face a variety of threats from conspecific outsiders. Defensive actions are therefore common, but there is considerable variation in which individuals contribute and to what extent. There has been some theoretical exploration of this variation when the defence is of shared resources, but the relative contributions when a single intruder threatens a particular breeding position have received less attention. Defensive actions are costly, both for the individual and dependent young, and contributions are likely to differ depending on individual sex, rank and size, current breeding stage, infanticide risk and relatedness levels. Here, we model analytically the relative fitness benefits of different group members to engaging in defence against individual intruders, and determine when within-group conflicts of interest might arise over these defensive contributions. Conflicts of interest between the challenged breeder and other group members depend on relatedness to the brood and the potential relatedness reduction if an intruder acquires breeding status. Conflicts are more likely to occur when there is a low chance of winning the contest, low infanticide rates, inefficient defence from helpers, a long remaining brood-dependency period, and high external (non-contest-related) mortality. Our work can help explain variation in defensive actions against out-group threats.

    Research areas

  • animal groups, breeding position, defence, inclusive fitness, intrusions, subordinate contributions

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