The thermoregulatory benefits of the communal nest of sociable weavers Philetairus socius are spatially structured within nests


R. E. van Dijk, Dept of Animal and Plant Sciences, Univ. of Sheffield, Western Bank, Sheffield S10 2TN, UK. E-mail:


Structures built by animals, such as nests, mounds and burrows, are often the product of cooperative investment by more than one individual. Such structures may be viewed as a public good, since all individuals that occupy them share the benefits they provide. However, access to the benefits generated by the structure may vary among individuals and is likely to be an important determinant of social organisation. Here we use the massive, communal nests of sociable weavers Philetairus socius, to investigate whether their thermoregulatory function varies in relation to the size of communal nests, and the position of individual nest chambers within the communal structure. We then examine whether this spatial variation in thermoregulatory function predicts the social organisation of colonies. First, we show that the sociable weavers’ communal nests buffer variation in ambient temperature, and reduce temperature variability within nest chambers. The extent of this buffering effect depends significantly on the position of nest chambers within the communal structure, and on the depth to which chambers are embedded within the nest mass. We detected no effect of nest volume on thermoregulatory benefits, suggesting that there are likely to be additional, non-thermoregulatory benefits leading to communal nests. Finally, our results indicate that there may be competition for access to the benefits of the public good, since older birds occupied the chambers with the highest thermoregulatory benefits, where breeding activity was also more common. We discuss how the spatial structure of the benefits of the public good might influence social organisation in the unique communal lifestyle of sociable weavers.