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Data from: Multiple benefits of alloparental care in a fluctuating environment

Cite this dataset

Guindre-Parker, Sarah; Rubenstein, Dustin R. (2018). Data from: Multiple benefits of alloparental care in a fluctuating environment [Dataset]. Dryad.


Although cooperatively breeding vertebrates occur disproportionately in unpredictable environments, the underlying mechanism shaping this biogeographic pattern remains unclear. Cooperative breeding may buffer against harsh conditions (hard life hypothesis), or additionally allow for sustained breeding under benign conditions (temporal variability hypothesis). To distinguish between the hard life and temporal variability hypotheses, we investigated whether the number of alloparents at a nest increased reproductive success or load-lightening in superb starlings (Lamprotornis superbus), and whether these two types of benefits varied in harsh and benign years. We found that mothers experienced both types of benefits consistent with the temporal variability hypothesis, as larger contingents of alloparents increased the number of young fledged while simultaneously allowing mothers to reduce their provisioning rates under both harsh and benign rainfall conditions. In contrast, fathers experienced load-lightening only under benign rainfall conditions, suggesting that cooperative breeding may serve to take advantage of unpredictable benign breeding seasons when they do occur. Cooperative breeding in unpredictable environments may thus promote flexibility in offspring care behaviour, which could mitigate variability in the cost of raising young. Our results highlight the importance of considering how offspring care decisions vary among breeding roles and across fluctuating environmental conditions.

Usage notes


National Science Foundation, Award: IOS-1121435, IOS-1257530, IOS-1439985, IOS-1501257