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Abstract

In general, support by social allies may reduce stress, increase an individual's status and facilitate access to resources. In Greylag geese (Anser anser), offspring stay with their parents for an entire year or even longer and thereby enjoy social support in encounters with other flock members. We investigated the influence of spatial distance to one's allies on the outcome of agonistic encounters in a natural flock situation for a total of 12 sibling groups after fledging. In addition, we tested two groups of hand-raised juvenile geese over a time span of 11/2 yr. Passive (i.e. not interfering) human supporters of different familiarity were placed at a standard distance during food provisionings, which produced a tight flock situation. Success in agonistic interactions increased with decreasing distance to members of their social unit. The hand-raised juveniles were more successful in agonistic interactions and showed increased feeding rates when accompanied by a familiar human than when alone or with a non-familiar human. The effect of the presence of familiar humans on success in agonistic encounters significantly decreased with increasing age, while feeding rates remained elevated. The positive effects of social support were particularly evident in females. We conclude that social support has similar effects and functions in the highly social greylag geese as reported for social mammals.