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Cooperative Breeding and Group Structure in the Lake Tanganyika Cichlid Neolamprologus savoryi


Dik Heg, Department of Behavioural Ecology, Zoological Institute, University of Bern, Wohlenstrasse 50a, CH-3032 Hinterkappelen, Switzerland. E-mail:


As yet, cooperative breeding has been described only for some fish species. However, evidence is accumulating that it is widespread among Lake Tanganyika cichlids. We studied the cooperative breeding system of the substrate breeding cichlid Neolamprologus savoryi. Breeding groups typically consisted of a large breeding male with one to four breeding females and three to 33 helpers (mean group size: 14.3 members). Group size was significantly related to breeding male and female body sizes, and larger males had more breeding females and larger sized male helpers. The size of the largest female in the group was positively related to the number and sizes of secondary breeding females and female helpers. In case of multiple breeding females, these females usually divided the group's territory into sub-territories, each with its own helpers (subgroups). Interspersed between groups, independent fish were detected defending an individual shelter (4.4% of all fish). In 9% of the groups no breeding female was present. All group members participated in territory defence and maintenance, and showed submissive behaviours to larger group members. As expected, the level of between-subgroup conflicts was high compared with the level of within-subgroup conflicts. We compare these results with data available from other cooperatively breeding fishes.

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