Reproductive success depends on the quality of helpers in the endangered, cooperative El Oro parakeet (Pyrrhura orcesi)


Correspondence: Nadine Klauke, Fax: +49761-2032544; E-mail:


In cooperative species, helping behaviour and reproductive success can be correlated, but understanding this correlation is often impaired by the difficulty to correctly infer causation. While helpers can incur costs by participating in brood care, it is yet unclear if their help depends on their individual quality. We address these questions in the previously unknown cooperative breeding system of the endangered El Oro parakeet (Pyrrhura orcesi). Specifically, we ask (i) whether breeders benefit directly from helpers by an enhanced reproductive success and if so, (ii) whether the amount of this potential benefit is regulated by the quality of contributing group members. Groups consist of a dominant breeding pair accompanied by helpers, but cooperation is not obligate. Microsatellite heterozygosity was used to assess individual quality; its suitability as indicator of quality was reflected in the positive relationship between offspring heterozygosity and recruitment into the population. The reproductive success of breeding pairs depended on helper (genetic) quality and the number of helpers. This relationship occurred on two different levels: clutch size and fledging success, indicating (i) that females profit from high-quality helpers and probably adjust clutch size accordingly and (ii) that the helpers increase fledging success. Congruently, we found that offspring body condition is positively affected by helper quality, which is most probably explained by the increased feeding rates when helpers are present. We suggest a causal link between cooperation and reproductive success in this frugivorous, endangered parakeet. Further, helper (genetic) quality can be a relevant factor for determining reproductive fitness in cooperative species, particularly in small and bottlenecked populations.