The Cost of being alone

the fate of floaters in a population of cooperatively breeding pied babblers

Amanda R. Ridley, Nichola J. Raihani, Martha J. Nelson-Flower

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The occurrence of group-living behaviour has often been explained by the benefits individuals receive through cooperation; including increased reproductive output, vigilance against predators, and load-lightening behaviour. However, to fully understand the benefits of group-living, it is important to quantify the costs of living alone. Here, we look at the fate of floaters (individuals who have no fixed territory and remain alone for extended periods) in a population of cooperatively breeding pied babblers Turdoides bicolor. We found that individuals spent less time foraging and more time vigilant for predators when found as a floater compared to when they were in a group. Consequently, they suffered a continuous loss of body mass, with long-term floaters suffering the highest losses. This had a long-term effect: floaters that eventually did regain a position in a group usually entered as helpers, in contrast to dispersers, who usually entered a new group as breeders. This high cost of living alone highlights the benefits of group-living and may help to understand patterns of delayed dispersal in some social species.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)389-392
Number of pages4
JournalJournal of Avian Biology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • dispersal dynamics
  • pied babblers
  • body mass
  • lifetime reproductive success

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