Positive effects of helpers on reproductive success in the brown treecreeper and the general importance of future benefits

Erik D. Doerr*, Veronica A.J. Doerr

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    35 Citations (Scopus)


    1. Numerous studies of cooperatively breeding species have tested for effects of helpers on reproductive success to evaluate hypotheses for the evolution of cooperation, but relatively few have used experimental or statistical approaches that control for the confounding effects of breeder and territory quality. 2. In the brown treecreeper Climacteris picumnus, most helpers are male offspring of the breeding pair that have delayed dispersal. We analysed 5 years of data (97 territory-years) using hierarchical linear modelling to test for effects of helpers on reproductive success while controlling for confounding factors. 3. The number of helpers was related positively to reproductive success even after controlling for differences between territories and breeders. A threshold effect was observed, with success increasing most with the presence of a second helper (i.e. at group size of four). 4. Feeding at the nest was one mechanism responsible for this effect, as larger groups had higher total feeding rates at all nesting stages. Higher total feeding rates, as well as higher feeding rates by helpers, were correlated in turn with greater reproductive success. 5. An analysis of the effects of helper feeding rate on reproductive success in groups with just one helper produced only weak support for a positive effect of helpers. Controlled comparisons of this kind utilize only a small fraction of the total data available and thus have limited statistical power compared to hierarchical or mixed-modelling. 6. A number of hypotheses to explain the evolution and maintenance of helping behaviour are consistent with our results for brown treecreepers including kin selection and hypotheses based on future direct benefits. 7. A previous synthesis of studies of helper effects that controlled for confounding factors suggested a pattern in which male helpers rarely have positive effects on reproductive success. However, revising that synthesis to include recent hierarchical or mixed-modelling studies suggests that helpers of both sexes usually have positive effects, and that the relative importance of future direct benefits may have been underestimated.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)966-976
    Number of pages11
    JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - Sept 2007


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