Safe selfish sentinels in a cooperative bird

Authors

  • J. Wright,

    Corresponding author
    1. School of Biological Sciences, University of Wales, Bangor, Gwynedd LL57 2UW, UK;
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  • E. Berg,

    1. School of Biological Sciences, University of Wales, Bangor, Gwynedd LL57 2UW, UK;
    2. Department of Wildlife, Fisheries & Conservation Biology, University of California, Davis CA 95616, USA;
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  • S. R. De Kort,

    1. School of Biological Sciences, University of Wales, Bangor, Gwynedd LL57 2UW, UK;
    2. Institute of Evolutionary and Ecological Sciences, Leiden University, NL-2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands; and
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  • V. Khazin,

    1. School of Biological Sciences, University of Wales, Bangor, Gwynedd LL57 2UW, UK;
    2. Department of Zoology, Tel Aviv University, Ramat Aviv, Tel Aviv 69978, Israel
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  • A. A. Maklakov

    1. School of Biological Sciences, University of Wales, Bangor, Gwynedd LL57 2UW, UK;
    2. Department of Zoology, Tel Aviv University, Ramat Aviv, Tel Aviv 69978, Israel
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    • §

      Current address: Mitriani Department of Desert Ecology, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Midreshet Ben-Gurion, Sede Boqer 84990, Israel.


J. Wright, School of Biological Sciences, University of Wales, Bangor, Gwynedd LL57 2UW, UK. Tel: + 44 (0)1248 382313; Fax: + 44 (0)1248 382313; E-mail: j.wright@bangor.ac.uk

Summary

  • 1Sentinel behaviour involves a unique cooperative system of dedicated look-outs which protect members of their social group from attack by predators. Using detailed observations from groups of Arabian babblers, Turdoides squamiceps, we tested the original theoretical suggestion that cooperative sentinel systems are simply the result of individually selfish state-dependent patterns of behaviour.
  • 2Sentinel effort and the number of sentinel bouts per individual per hour were greater for males than females, and both increased with individual dominance status within the group.
  • 3Sentinel behaviour was unaffected by group social structure, in terms of patterns of relatedness and the number of potential breeders.
  • 4Total group sentinel effort increased with group size, while the effort per individual decreased irrespective of sex and dominance rank. Simultaneous sentinel behaviour by two or more birds was very rare, but increased with group size.
  • 5Sentinel effort followed seasonal fluctuations in food availability, but not peaks of raptor migration through the study site.
  • 6Body mass was greater for males than females and was positively related to dominance rank. Overall, body mass explained much of the variation in individual sentinel effort both within and between birds. However, data on individual foraging performance could not be related to changes in body mass and thus to differences in sentinel effort.
  • 7Sentinel behaviour in groups of Arabian babblers therefore confirms many of the predictions arising from state-dependent models of cooperative, yet individually selfish, sentinel behaviour.

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