Helpers provide no benefits in the European badger (Meles
Journal of Zoology
Volume 250 Issue 1,Pages113-119 Published Online: 28Feb2006
Many studies of co-operatively breeding vertebrates
have shown that social groups which contain more helpers experience higher
reproductive success. Few of these studies, however, have demonstrated
that this is a causal relationship. Using data on a co-operatively
breeding population of European badgers Meles meles, this study shows that
the relationship between helper number and group reproductive success is a
spurious one generated through the effect of territory quality. Within
this population, most variation in cub production, growth rate and
survival is explained by variation in food availability between years and
between territories. Unusually for mammals, juvenile mortality is markedly
higher in females than in males. After controlling for such effects,
helpers appear to have only negative effects upon group reproductive
success, and mothers with helpers are in poorer condition at the end of
the breeding period than those without helpers. A high proportion of
helpers are sexually mature females which have failed to breed as a result
of intense competition for resources. Under such circumstances,
alloparental care represents a low-cost, low-benefit behaviour which may
mitigate the negative impact that non-breeding group members have upon the
reproductive success of their close relatives.
co-operative breeding • alloparental care • juvenile
mortality • sex-biased mortality • Meles meles
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