American Society of Naturalists

A membership society whose goal is to advance and to diffuse knowledge of organic evolution and other broad biological principles so as to enhance the conceptual unification of the biological sciences.

“Evolutionary pathways to communal and cooperative breeding in Carnivores”

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Valentine Federico, Dominique Allainé, Jean-Michel Gaillard, and Aurélie Cohas (June 2020)

The coevolution between the constitutive traits of cooperative highlights the importance of delayed dispersal

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In animal societies, individuals can cooperate in a variety of tasks, including rearing young. Such cooperation is observed in complex social systems, including communal and cooperative breeding. In mammals, both these social systems are characterized by delayed dispersal and alloparenting, whereas only cooperative breeding involves reproductive suppression. While the evolution of communal breeding has been linked to direct fitness benefits of alloparenting, the direct fitness cost of reproductive suppression has led to the hypothesis that the evolution of cooperative breeding is driven by indirect fitness benefits accrued through raising the offspring of related individuals. To decipher between the evolutionary scenarios leading to communal and cooperative breeding in carnivores, we investigated the coevolution among delayed dispersal, reproductive suppression, and alloparenting. We reconstructed ancestral states and transition rates between these traits. We found that cooperative breeding and communal breeding evolved along separate pathways, with delayed dispersal as the first step for both of them. The three traits coevolved, enhancing and stabilizing each other, which resulted in cooperative social systems being stable as opposed to intermediate configurations. These findings promote the key role of coevolution among traits to stabilize cooperative social systems, and highlight the specificities of evolutionary patterns of sociality in carnivores.