Helper contributions to antiparasite behavior in the cooperatively breeding bell miner

María L. Pacheco, Paul G. McDonald, Jonathan Wright, Anahita J N Kazem, Michael F. Clarke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Cooperatively breeding bell miners (Manorina melanophrys) have numerous male helpers assisting at multiple nests. Helpers are often related to the brood they aid, consistent with kin selection. However, there are also unrelated helpers for which other direct fitness benefits are likely to accrue. Bell miner nestlings can become infested by the larvae of a parasitic fly (Passeromyia indecora), which reduce growth and can be fatal. We investigated the amount of time that breeding pairs and helpers closely inspected nests and preened nestlings, behaviors apparently directed at detecting and removing parasites, a form of helping previously unstudied in a cooperative bird. Female breeders provided the greatest antiparasite effort, with breeding males and helpers not differing in effort regardless of their relatedness to the breeding female or brood. We also experimentally infested nests with nonparasitic flies and larvae. All individuals removed the introduced "parasites" if and when they encountered them. Compared with control sessions, inspection effort increased for all birds immediately after the experimental infestations, but only for a short, 5-min period. Further, we detected no changes in helper antiparasite behaviors after the temporary experimental removal of either breeding females or males. Such consistent helping behavior, independent of relatedness and potential audience effects, suggests that antiparasite behavior in bell miners is not particularly kin directed or operating as a signal of helper quality. Our results instead suggest that helper antiparasite effort appears to represent adaptive investment in the welfare of the brood, consistent with direct fitness benefits from group augmentation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)558-566
Number of pages9
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • Dipteran infestation
  • Helping at the nest
  • Parental care
  • Passeromyia
  • Signaling hypotheses


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