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Reproductive conflict delays the recovery of an endangered social species

By A. Lopez-Sepulcre, K. Norris and H. Kokko


Evolutionary theory predicts that individuals, in order to increase their relative fitness, can evolve behaviours that are detrimental for the group or population. This mismatch is particularly visible in social organisms. Despite its potential to affect the population dynamics of social animals, this principle has not yet been applied to real-life conservation. Social group structure has been argued to stabilize population dynamics due to the buffering effects of nonreproducing subordinates. However, competition for breeding positions in such species can also interfere with the reproduction of breeding pairs. Seychelles magpie robins, Copsychus sechellarum, live in social groups where subordinate individuals do not breed. Analysis of long-term individual-based data and short-term behavioural observations show that subordinates increase the territorial takeover frequency of established breeders. Such takeovers delay offspring production and decrease territory productivity. Individual-based simulations of the Seychelles magpie robin population parameterized with the long-term data show that this process has significantly postponed the recovery of the species from the Critically Endangered status. Social conflict thus can extend the period of high extinction risk, which we show to have population consequences that should be taken into account in management programmes. This is the first quantitative assessment of the effects of social conflict on conservation

Year: 2009
DOI identifier: 10.1111/j.1365-2656.2008.01475.x
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