Season-specific carryover of early life associations in a monogamous bird species

Ralf H.J.M. Kurvers*, Lea Prox, Damien R. Farine, Coretta Jongeling, Lysanne Snijders

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Social relationships can have important fitness consequences. Although there is increasing evidence that social relationships carry over across contexts, few studies have investigated whether relationships formed early in life are carried over to adulthood. For example, juveniles of monogamous species go through a major life history stage transition, pair formation, during which the pair bond becomes a central unit of the social organization. At present, it remains unclear whether pair members retain their early life relationships after pair formation. We investigated whether same-sex associations formed early in life carry over into adulthood and whether carryover was dependent on season, in a monogamous species. We also investigated the role of familiarity, genetic relatedness and aggression on the perseverance of social associations. We studied the social structure before and after pair formation in captive barnacle geese, Branta leucopsis, a highly social, long-lived, monogamous species. We constructed association networks of groups of geese before pair formation, during the subsequent breeding season and in the following wintering season. Next, we studied how these associations carried over during seasonal changes. We found that early life associations in females were lost during the breeding season but resurfaced during the subsequent wintering season. In males, the early life associations persisted across both seasons. Association persistence was not mediated by genetic relatedness or familiarity. The high level of aggressiveness of males, but not females, in the breeding season suggests that males may have played a key role in shaping both their own social environment and that of their partners. We show that early life social relationships can be maintained well into later life. Such relationships can be sustained even if they are temporarily disrupted, for example due to reproductive behaviour. Our findings therefore highlight that the early life social environment can have lifelong consequences for individuals’ social environment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)25-37
Number of pages13
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020
Externally publishedYes


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