Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology Unit

Göttingen, Germany

Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology Unit

Göttingen, Germany

Time filter

Source Type

Kappeler P.M.,University of Gottingen | Kappeler P.M.,Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology Unit | Barrett L.,University of Lethbridge | Barrett L.,Applied Behavioural Ecology and Ecosystems Research Unit | And 2 more authors.
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences | Year: 2013

This paper introduces a Theme Issue presenting the latest developments in research on the interplay between flexibility and constraint in social behaviour, using comparative datasets, long-term field studies and experimental data from both field and laboratory studies of mammals. We first explain our focus on mammals and outline the main components of their social systems, focusing on variation within- and among-species in numerous aspects of social organization, mating system and social structure. We then review the current state of primarily ultimate explanations of this diversity in social behaviour. We approach the question of how and why the balance between behavioural flexibility and continuity is achieved by discussing the genetic, developmental, ecological and social constraints on hypothetically unlimited behavioural flexibility. We introduce the other contributions to this Theme Issue against this background and conclude that constraints are often crucial to the evolution and expression of behavioural flexibility. In exploring these issues, the enduring relevance of Tinbergen's seminal paper 'On aims and methods in ethology', with its advocacy of an integrative, four-pronged approach to studying behaviour becomes apparent: an exceptionally fitting tribute on the 50th anniversary of its publication. © 2013 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.


Schneider T.C.,University of Gottingen | Kappeler P.M.,University of Gottingen | Kappeler P.M.,Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology Unit
Biological Reviews | Year: 2014

The diversity of extant carnivores provides valuable opportunities for comparative research to illuminate general patterns of mammalian social evolution. Recent field studies on mongooses (Herpestidae), in particular, have generated detailed behavioural and demographic data allowing tests of assumptions and predictions of theories of social evolution. The first studies of the social systems of their closest relatives, the Malagasy Eupleridae, also have been initiated. The literature on mongooses was last reviewed over 25years ago. In this review, we summarise the current state of knowledge on the social organisation, mating systems and social structure (especially competition and cooperation) of the two mongoose families. Our second aim is to evaluate the contributions of these studies to a better understanding of mammalian social evolution in general. Based on published reports or anecdotal information, we can classify 16 of the 34 species of Herpestidae as solitary and nine as group-living; there are insufficient data available for the remainder. There is a strong phylogenetic signal of sociality with permanent complex groups being limited to the genera Crossarchus, Helogale, Liberiictis, Mungos, and Suricata. Our review also indicates that studies of solitary and social mongooses have been conducted within different theoretical frameworks: whereas solitary species and transitions to gregariousness have been mainly investigated in relation to ecological determinants, the study of social patterns of highly social mongooses has instead been based on reproductive skew theory. In some group-living species, group size and composition were found to determine reproductive competition and cooperative breeding through group augmentation. Infanticide risk and inbreeding avoidance connect social organisation and social structure with reproductive tactics and life histories, but their specific impact on mongoose sociality is still difficult to evaluate. However, the level of reproductive skew in social mongooses is not only determined by the costs and benefits of suppressing each other's breeding attempts, but also influenced by resource abundance. Thus, dispersal, as a consequence of eviction, is also linked to the costs of co-breeding in the context of food competition. By linking these facts, we show that the socio-ecological model and reproductive skew theory share some determinants of social patterns. We also conclude that due to their long bio-geographical isolation and divergent selection pressures, future studies of the social systems of the Eupleridae will be of great value for the elucidation of general patterns in carnivore social evolution. © 2013 Cambridge Philosophical Society.


Kappeler P.M.,Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology Unit | Kappeler P.M.,University of Gottingen | Cremer S.,IST Austria Institute of Science and Technology Austria | Nunn C.L.,Duke University
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences | Year: 2015

This paper introduces a theme issue presenting the latest developments in research on the impacts of sociality on health and fitness. The articles that follow cover research on societies ranging from insects to humans. Variation in measures of fitness (i.e. survival and reproduction) has been linked to various aspects of sociality in humans and animals alike, and variability in individual health and condition has been recognized as a key mediator of these relationships. Viewed from a broad evolutionary perspective, the evolutionary transitions from a solitary lifestyle to group living have resulted in several new health-related costs and benefits of sociality. Social transmission of parasites within groups represents a major cost of group living, but some behavioural mechanisms, such as grooming, have evolved repeatedly to reduce this cost. Group living also has created novel costs in terms of altered susceptibility to infectious and non-infectious disease as a result of the unavoidable physiological consequences of social competition and integration, which are partly alleviated by social buffering in some vertebrates. Here, we define the relevant aspects of sociality, summarize their health-related costs and benefits, and discuss possible fitness measures in different study systems. Given the pervasive effects of social factors on health and fitness, we propose a synthesis of existing conceptual approaches in disease ecology, ecological immunology and behavioural neurosciences by adding sociality as a key factor, with the goal to generate a broader framework for organismal integration of health-related research. © 2015 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.


Schnoell A.V.,Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology Unit | Schnoell A.V.,University of Gottingen | Fichtel C.,Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology Unit | Fichtel C.,University of Gottingen
Animal Cognition | Year: 2012

Recent research has claimed that traditions are not a unique feature of human culture, but that they can be found in animal societies as well. However, the origins of traditions in animals studied in the wild are still poorly understood. To contribute comparative data to begin filling this gap, we conducted a social diffusion experiment with four groups of wild redfronted lemurs (Eulemur rufifrons). We used a 'two-option' feeding box, where these Malagasy primates could either pull or push a door to get access to a fruit reward to study whether and how these two behavioural traits spread through the groups. During a pre-training phase, two groups were presented with boxes in which one technique was blocked, whereas two groups were presented with unblocked boxes. During a subsequent unconstrained phase, all four groups were confronted with unblocked boxes. Nearly half of the study animals were able to learn the new feeding skill and individuals who observed others needed fewer unsuccessful task manipulations until their first successful action. Animals in the two groups with pre-training also discovered the corresponding alternative technique but preferred the seeded technique. Interestingly, animals in the two groups without pre-training discovered both techniques, and one group developed a group preference for one technique whereas the other did not. In all groups, some animals also scrounged food rewards. In conclusion, redfronted lemurs appear to use social information in acquiring a novel task, and animals in at least in one group without training developed a group preference for one technique, indicating that they have the potential to develop behavioural traditions and conformity. © 2012 The Author(s).


Kappeler P.M.,Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology Unit | Kappeler P.M.,University of Gottingen | Fichtel C.,Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology Unit | Fichtel C.,University of Gottingen
Molecular Ecology | Year: 2012

In mammals with female philopatry, co-resident females inevitably compete with each other for resources or reproductive opportunities, thereby reducing the kin-selected benefits of altruism towards relatives. These counteracting forces of cooperation and competition among kin should be particularly pronounced in plurally breeding species with limited alternative breeding opportunities outside the natal group. However, little is still known about the costs of reproductive competition on females' fitness and the victims' potential counter-strategies. Here we summarize long-term behavioural, demographic and genetic data collected on a plurally breeding primate from Madagascar to illuminate mechanisms and effects of female reproductive competition, focusing on forcible eviction and potential reproductive restraint. The main results of our study indicate that females in groups of redfronted lemurs (Eulemur rufifrons) above a critical size suffer from competition from their close relatives: females in larger groups face an increased probability of not giving birth as well as a higher probability of being evicted, especially during the annual mating and birth seasons. Eviction is not predicted by the number of adult females, the number of close female relatives, female age or inter-annual variation in rainfall but only by total group size. Thus, eviction in this species is clearly linked with reproductive competition, it cannot be forestalled by reproductive restraint or having many relatives in the group, and it occurs in the absence of a clear dominance hierarchy. Our study therefore also underscores the notion that potential inclusive fitness benefits from living with relatives may have been generally over-rated and should not be taken for granted. © 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.


Port M.,University of Cambridge | Kappeler P.M.,Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology Unit | Kappeler P.M.,University of Gottingen | Johnstone R.A.,University of Cambridge
American Naturalist | Year: 2011

The evolution of group living has attracted considerable attention from behavioral ecologists working on a wide range of study species. However, theoretical research in this field has been largely focused on cooperative breeders. We extend this line of work to species that lack alloparental care (hereafter termed ''noncooperative species'') but that may benefit from grouping by jointly defending a common territory. We adopt a demographically explicit approach in which the rates of births and deaths as well as the dispersal decisions of individuals in the population determine the turnover rates of territories and the competition for breeding vacancies thus arising. Our results reveal that some of the factors thought to affect the evolution of cooperative breeding also affect the evolution of group living in noncooperative species. Specifically, high fecundity and low mortality of resident individuals both increase the degree of habitat saturation and make joining an established group more profitable for nonresidents (floaters). Moreover, if floaters can forcefully take over territories, the degree of habitat saturation also affects the chance that residents become targets of takeovers. In this situation, communal defense of territories becomes an important benefit that further promotes the evolution of group living. © 2011 by The University of Chicago.


Fichtel C.,Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology Unit | Kappeler P.M.,University of Gottingen
International Journal of Primatology | Year: 2011

The comprehension and usage of primate alarm calls appear to be influenced by social learning. Thus, alarm calls provide flexible behavioral mechanisms that may allow animals to develop appropriate responses to locally present predators. To study this potential flexibility, we compared the usage and function of 3 alarm calls common to 2 closely related sifaka species (Propithecus verreauxi and P. coquereli), in each of 2 different populations with different sets of predators. Playback studies revealed that both species in both of their respective populations emitted roaring barks in response to raptors, and playbacks of this call elicited a specific anti-raptor response (look up and climb down). However, in Verreaux's sifakas, tchi-faks elicited anti-terrestrial predator responses (look down, climb up) in the population with a higher potential predation threat by terrestrial predators, whereas tchi-faks in the other population were associated with nonspecific flight responses. In both populations of Coquerel's sifakas, tchi-fak playbacks elicited anti-terrestrial predator responses. More strikingly, Verreaux's sifakas exhibited anti-terrestrial predator responses after playbacks of growls in the population with a higher threat of predation by terrestrial predators, whereas Coquerel's sifakas in the raptor-dominated habitat seemed to associate growls with a threat by raptors; the 2 other populations of each species associated a mild disturbance with growls. We interpret this differential comprehension and usage of alarm calls as the result of social learning processes that caused changes in signal content in response to changes in the set of predators to which these populations have been exposed since they last shared a common ancestor. © 2010 The Author(s).


Huchard E.,University of Cambridge | Pechouskova E.,Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology Unit
International Journal of Primatology | Year: 2014

Since the serendipitous discovery of the effect of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) on mate choice in laboratory mice nearly 40 yr ago, there has been sustained interest in the role that MHC genes may play in vertebrate sexual behavior. However, the challenges posed by MHC genotyping have long hampered progress in this area. We briefly introduce the documented links between MHC and behavior, before presenting an overview of the genotyping methods that were available before the introduction of new sequencing technologies. We then clarify why next-generation sequencing represents a major breakthrough in MHC genotyping by reviewing the recent successes -and pitfalls- of pioneer studies applying these techniques, before envisioning their revolutionary implications for future MHC studies in evolutionary ecology and primatology. We hope that our practical guidance to the design of MHC-based projects will promote and facilitate the integration of a MHC component into the research agendas of primatologists. © 2013 Springer Science+Business Media New York.


Fichtel C.,Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology Unit
Primate Conservation | Year: 2014

Signals are important for species recognition. In this study, I examined the acoustic structure of loud calls ("Tchi-faks") in two populations of closely related lemur species in Madagascar, the Decken's and crowned sifakas (Propithecus deckenii and P. coronatus). Both populations exhibited a strong individual signature in the acoustic structure of Tchi-faks. Furthermore, Tchi-faks clearly differed in the acoustic structure between the two populations. Tchi-faks of Decken's sifakas at Bemahara were, on average, longer and have more energy in lower frequency ranges than Tchi-faks of crowned sifakas at Antrema. This variation is most likely due to anatomical differences of the vocal tract between the two species. However, loud calls of further populations need to be studied in order to understand whether the documented variation in loud calls represents species-specific signatures. In addition, to understanding whether these loud calls are important for species recognition, playback experiments are required to examine if sifakas themselves discriminate between calls of different species.


Clough D.,Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology Unit
Journal of Parasitology | Year: 2010

Although parasites are important regulatory factors in animal populations, basic knowledge on their fauna in many vertebrate taxa is lacking. In particular, parasite infections of primate species have gained little attention. Here, I present data on the gastro-intestinal fauna of a population of wild red-fronted lemurs (Eulemur fulvus rufus; Primates: Lemuriformes) monitored over a total of 8 mo during 2 consecutive field seasons in 2006 and 2007 in Kirindy Forest, western Madagascar. Using fecal samples for parasite analyses, I identified 10 parasite species, including 6 nematodes (Lemuricola vauceli, Trichuris sp., 2 species of Callistoura, 1 trichostrongylid, and 1 strongyloid), 1 anoplocephalid cestode, a dicrocoeliid trematode, as well as 2 protozoans (Entamoeba sp. and Balantidium coli). The population in Kirindy Forest had the highest prevalence and number of parasite species ever recorded for species of lemurs. Additionally, prevalence of some parasite species differed between the social groups studied. These findings lead to 2 conclusions. First, it is important to extend a parasitological study to several social groups of a host population, since groups may differ in parasite fauna as a result of minor microclimatic or habitat parameters, and, second, short-term assessments of lemur health might underestimate the real parasite burden. © 2010 American Society of Parasitologists.

Loading Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology Unit collaborators
Loading Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology Unit collaborators