“Resolving the paradox of environmental quality and sociality: the ecological causes and consequences of cooperative breeding in two lineages of birds”

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Yu-Heng Lin (林宇恆), Shih-Fan Chan (詹仕凡), Dustin R. Rubenstein, Mark Liu (劉彥廷), and Sheng-Feng Shen (沈聖峰) (Aug 2019)

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Social animals occupy larger species range size

Hornbills (Tockus deckeni) and starlings (Lamprotornis superbus).
(Credit: Sheng-Feng Shen)


Cooperatively breeding animals occur in virtually every ecosystem on earth. Comparative and biogeographic studies suggest that both benign and harsh, as well as stable and fluctuating, environments can favor the evolution of cooperative breeding behavior. The fact that cooperative societies occur in environments of such contrasting quality creates a paradox of environmental quality and sociality. The dual-benefits framework—which leads to the prediction that the ecological consequences of sociality (e.g. range size) vary depending on the benefits that individuals of each species receive by forming social groups—offers a potential resolution to this paradox. Here we use a case study of two avian lineages, starlings (Sturnidae) and hornbills (Bucerotidae), in which environmental unpredictability appears to have opposite effects on the evolution of cooperation to test the dual-benefits framework. Consistent with previous work, harsh and unpredictable environments promote cooperative breeding behavior in starlings, which in turn leads to larger geographic ranges. However, cooperatively breeding hornbills occur in benign and stable environments, but sociality does not influence range size. Our study suggests that the paradox of environmental quality and sociality arises largely because cooperative breeding is an umbrella term, encompassing social species that form groups for different reasons. We demonstrate that differentiating among the functional causes of social group formation is critical for developing a predictive framework for understanding the evolution of cooperative breeding behavior.


林宇恆,詹仕凡,Dustin R. Rubenstein,劉彥廷,沈聖峰