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Abstract

The effect of group size on reproductive success has long been studied in cooperatively breeding species, as it might provide an adaptive explanation for group-living in social species. Numerous studies have shown positive effects of subordinates on reproductive success (‘helper effect’), but these studies have also revealed the importance of controlling statistically, or experimentally, for the effect of other factors that might affect reproductive success. Here, we first examine the relationships between group size, body size of group members and nest size in the cooperatively breeding cichlid Julidochromis ornatus, in which unrelated helpers frequently participate in reproduction and their breeding nests inside rock crevices may be crucial for reproduction and survival of all group members. Then, we subsequently investigate the relationship between group size and reproductive success, while controlling for these factors. The results showed that group size was significantly related to body size of group members rather than nest size; and larger breeders had larger helpers. It was found that group size significantly increased group reproductive output. More importantly, reproductive success of male breeders did not depend on the presence of mature helpers, whereas female reproductive success increased when two males assisted her and tended to decrease when two females bred cooperatively. We conclude that breeding groups of J. ornatus have size hierarchical societies that relate to group size, and group composition of genetically unrelated and co-breeding members affects their reproductive success.