Stable social relationships between unrelated females increase individual fitness in a cooperative bird

Christina Pauline Riehl, Meghan J. Strong

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55 Scopus citations


Social animals often form long-lasting relationships with fellow group members, usually with close kin. In primates, strong social bonds have been associated with increased longevity, offspring survival and reproductive success. However, little is known about the fitness effects of social bonds between non-kin, especially outside of mammals. In this study, we use long-term field research on a cooperatively breeding bird, the greater ani (Crotophaga major), to ask whether adult females benefit by remaining in long-term associations with unrelated, co-breeding females. We find that females that have previously nested together synchronize their reproduction more rapidly than those nesting with unfamiliar partners, which leads to lower competition and higher fledging success. Importantly, although previous experience with a co-breeding female influenced reproductive synchrony, the degree of reproductive synchrony did not influence whether co-breeding females remained together in subsequent years, ruling out the alternate hypothesis that highly synchronized females are simply more likely to remain together. These results indicate that switching groups is costly to females, and that social familiarity improves reproductive coordination. Stable social relationships therefore have significant fitness consequences for cooperatively nesting female birds, suggesting that direct benefits alone may favour the evolution of associations between non-relatives and contribute to long-term group stability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20180130
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1876
StatePublished - Apr 11 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


  • Cooperation
  • Cooperative breeding
  • Crotophaga major
  • Group stability
  • Social affiliation
  • Social bond


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