Cooperative breeding in the arid zone


Friday, 3 August, 2012 - 15:00


Central Lecture Block 5


Evolution and Ecology Research Centre

Type of event: 


Presenter: Dr Lucy Browning

Institution: School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, UNSW


Chestnut-crowned babblers live in a harsh and unpredictable desert environment. Perhaps the key to their success lies in their cooperative nature: groups of babblers collaborate to rear young from a single nest. So why do the majority of individuals in the group give up their own chances of breeding to help rear the young of others? What’s in it for them, and why are aren’t they more selfish? Using long-term population monitoring, field experiments, behavioural and genetic data, I have been trying to answer these questions. As it turns out, babbler helpers do not help to further their own selfish reproductive agenda (as some theory suggests). Instead it seems their actions are truly altruistic and by directing help towards family they can pass their genes on indirectly. I discuss how this poses a problem for breeders with no family because they have no helpers with whom to share the burden of caring for young and suggest that females may trade sex for help to get over this difficulty.


Dr Lucy Browning received her PhD in Zoology from the University of Cambridge in 2010. Her research uses cooperative breeding systems to investigate key questions in the evolution of cooperation, sociality and life-history strategies. To address these questions Lucy is using a combination of experimental fieldwork and long-term monitoring of a wild population of chestnut-crowned babblers (Pomatostomus ruficeps), a cooperatively breeding bird endemic to Australia, at the UNSW Arid Zone Research Station.