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Abstract

Cooperatively breeding birds typically form cohesive and stable groups that live year-round in all purpose territories where competition for resources is likely to arise. Understanding how group members negotiate over resources is crucial because conflicts may disrupt the stability of the group and may ultimately hinder cooperation. However, social relationships within the group have been largely neglected so far. Here we investigated how cooperatively breeding carrion crows (Corvus corone corone) share a food source, by observing dyadic interactions in 29 territories that contained retained offspring of the breeding pair and/or immigrants. We found that crows formed linear and stable dominance hierarchies, which were stronger for males than females. We suggest that this difference mirrors the level of competition for resources other than food, such as reproduction and territory inheritance, which is higher in males than females. Interestingly, immigrant males dominated male offspring, suggesting that, for the resident breeder, which is the alpha member of the group, the benefits of an association with an immigrant overcome the costs of having his sons pushed down in the hierarchy. Our study uncovered the key factors that determine hierarchical relationships among cooperatively breeding crows and highlighted the need of focussing on social interactions in every context of group living to fully explain the dynamic of cooperation at the nest.