Helping effort increases with relatedness in bell miners, but 'unrelated' helpers of both sexes still provide substantial care

Jonathan Wright*, Paul G. McDonald, Luc Te Marvelde, Anahita J N Kazem, Charles M. Bishop

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Citations (Scopus)


Indirect fitness benefits from kin selection can explain why non-breeding individuals help raise the young of relatives. However, the evolution of helping by non-relatives requires direct fitness benefits, for example via group augmentation. Here, we examine nest visit rates, load sizes and prey types delivered by breeding pairs and their helpers in the cooperatively breeding bell miner (Manorina melanophrys). In this system, males remain in their natal colony while young females typically disperse, and helpers of both sexes often assist at multiple nests concurrently. We found extremely clear evidence for the expected effect of genetic relatedness on individual helping effort per nest within colonies. This positive incremental effect of kinship was facultative-i.e. largely the result of within-individual variation in helping effort. Surprisingly, no sex differences were detectable in any aspect of helping, and even non-relatives provided substantial aid. Helpers and breeders of both sexes regulated their provisioning effort by responding visit-by-visit to changes in nestling begging. Helping behaviour in bell miners therefore appears consistent with adaptive cooperative investment in the brood, and kin-selected care by relatives. Similar investment by 'unrelated' helpers of both sexes argues against direct fitness benefits, but is perhaps explained by kin selection at the colony level.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)437-445
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1680
Publication statusPublished - 7 Feb 2010


  • Brood demand
  • Helping-at-the-nest
  • Kinship
  • Load size
  • Natal philopatry
  • Nest visit rate


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