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Cooperation facilitates the colonization of harsh environments

Cornwallis, Charlie K. LU ; Botero, Carlos A.; Rubenstein, Dustin R.; Downing, Philip A. LU ; West, Stuart A. and Griffin, Ashleigh S. (2017) In Nature Ecology & Evolution 1(3).
Abstract
Animals living in harsh environments, where temperatures are hot and rainfall is unpredictable, are more likely to breed in cooperative groups. As a result, harsh environmental conditions have been accepted as a key factor explaining the evolution of cooperation. However, this is based on evidence that has not investigated the order of evolutionary events, so the inferred causality could be incorrect. We resolved this problem using phylogenetic analyses of 4,707 bird species and found that causation was in the opposite direction to that previously assumed. Rather than harsh environments favouring cooperation, cooperative
breeding has facilitated the colonization of harsh environments. Cooperative breeding was, in fact, more likely to... (More)
Animals living in harsh environments, where temperatures are hot and rainfall is unpredictable, are more likely to breed in cooperative groups. As a result, harsh environmental conditions have been accepted as a key factor explaining the evolution of cooperation. However, this is based on evidence that has not investigated the order of evolutionary events, so the inferred causality could be incorrect. We resolved this problem using phylogenetic analyses of 4,707 bird species and found that causation was in the opposite direction to that previously assumed. Rather than harsh environments favouring cooperation, cooperative
breeding has facilitated the colonization of harsh environments. Cooperative breeding was, in fact, more likely to evolve from ancestors occupying relatively cool environmental niches with predictable rainfall, which had low levels of polyandry and hence high within-group relatedness. We also found that polyandry increased after cooperative breeders invaded harsh environments,
suggesting that when helpers have limited options to breed independently, polyandry no longer destabilizes cooperation. This provides an explanation for the puzzling cases of polyandrous cooperative breeding birds. More generally, this illustrates how cooperation can play a key role in invading ecological niches, a pattern observed across all levels of biological organization from cells to animal societies. (Less)
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publication status
published
subject
in
Nature Ecology & Evolution
volume
1
issue
3
pages
10 pages
external identifiers
  • scopus:85019802033
  • wos:000417170400011
DOI
10.1038/s41559-016-0057
language
English
LU publication?
yes
id
94780cf8-e22f-4887-947b-49fc0dbb1cb5
date added to LUP
2017-02-28 13:59:53
date last changed
2018-03-25 04:34:46
@article{94780cf8-e22f-4887-947b-49fc0dbb1cb5,
  abstract     = {Animals living in harsh environments, where temperatures are hot and rainfall is unpredictable, are more likely to breed in cooperative groups. As a result, harsh environmental conditions have been accepted as a key factor explaining the evolution of cooperation. However, this is based on evidence that has not investigated the order of evolutionary events, so the inferred causality could be incorrect. We resolved this problem using phylogenetic analyses of 4,707 bird species and found that causation was in the opposite direction to that previously assumed. Rather than harsh environments favouring cooperation, cooperative<br/>breeding has facilitated the colonization of harsh environments. Cooperative breeding was, in fact, more likely to evolve from ancestors occupying relatively cool environmental niches with predictable rainfall, which had low levels of polyandry and hence high within-group relatedness. We also found that polyandry increased after cooperative breeders invaded harsh environments,<br/>suggesting that when helpers have limited options to breed independently, polyandry no longer destabilizes cooperation. This provides an explanation for the puzzling cases of polyandrous cooperative breeding birds. More generally, this illustrates how cooperation can play a key role in invading ecological niches, a pattern observed across all levels of biological organization from cells to animal societies.},
  articleno    = {0057},
  author       = {Cornwallis, Charlie K. and Botero, Carlos A. and Rubenstein, Dustin R. and Downing, Philip A. and West, Stuart A. and Griffin, Ashleigh S.},
  language     = {eng},
  number       = {3},
  pages        = {10},
  series       = {Nature Ecology & Evolution},
  title        = {Cooperation facilitates the colonization of harsh environments},
  url          = {http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41559-016-0057},
  volume       = {1},
  year         = {2017},
}