Plasticity in social behaviour varies with reproductive status in an avian cooperative breeder

Jasmine Little, Kennesaw State University
Dustin R. Rubenstein, Evolution and Environmental Biology
Sarah Guindre-Parker, Kennesaw State University


Cooperatively breeding vertebrates are common in unpredictable environments where the costs and benefits of providing offspring care fluctuate temporally. To balance these fitness outcomes, individuals of cooperatively breeding species often exhibit behavioural plasticity according to environmental conditions. Although individual variation in cooperative behaviours is wellstudied, less is known about variation in plasticity of social behaviour. Here, we examine the fitness benefits, plasticity and repeatability of nest guarding behaviour in cooperatively breeding superb starlings (Lamprotornis superbus). After demonstrating that the cumulative nest guarding performed at a nest by all breeders and helpers combined is a significant predictor of reproductive success, we model breeder and helper behavioural reaction norms to test the hypothesis that individuals invest more in guarding in favourable seasons with high rainfall. Variation in nest guarding behaviour across seasons differed for individuals of different reproductive status: Breeders showed plastic nest guarding behaviour in response to rainfall, whereas helpers did not. Similarly, we found that individual breeders show repeatability and consistency in their nest guarding behaviour while individual helpers did not. Thus, individuals with the potential to gain direct fitness benefits exhibit greater plasticity and individual-level repeatability in cooperative behaviour.