Cooperative provisioning dynamics: fathers and unrelated helpers show similar responses to manipulations of begging

Paul G. McDonald*, Anahita J N Kazem, Jonathan Wright

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Citations (Scopus)


Cooperative provisioning dynamics between members of a pair in biparental systems has received a lot of attention, both empirically and theoretically. The dynamics of provisioning in cooperatively breeding groups, however, remains poorly understood. Such groups often include unrelated helpers that may have very different provisioning rules from related helpers and parents, since they accrue different types of fitness benefits from helping. The bell miner, Manorina melanophrys, provides an ideal system in which to investigate cooperative provisioning, because substantial levels of care are provided by a number of unrelated helpers per nest. We experimentally increased brood demand via targeted begging playbacks during nest visits of either breeding males or unrelated male helpers. Both types of males used similar behavioural investment rules, significantly increasing food delivery rate during playback relative to control periods. Surprisingly, all other provisioners also increased their visit rates during playbacks, although to a lesser extent. This could only have been in response to the increase in visits by the target individuals, suggesting an additional indirect mechanism by which individuals in this cooperative setting assess brood demand. The resultant overall increase in food delivery during the playback periods caused nestlings to show the expected reduction in their own begging and an increase in body mass gain. It is therefore interesting how similar the evolved provisioning responses are for all types of group member, irrespective of whether such benefits of investment in the brood are derived via kin selection (fathers) or some future direct increase in fitness (helpers).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)369-376
Number of pages8
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2009


  • bell miner
  • cooperative breeding
  • group augmentation
  • kin selection
  • Manorina melanophrys
  • nestling begging
  • parental effort


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