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In many animal societies, subordinate non-breeders perform cooperative behaviours which enhance the fitness of others at an apparent cost to themselves. Whilst these behaviours can often be at least partly explained by high relatedness within groups, marine fishes commonly live in societies of unrelated individuals and therefore kin selection benefits are unlikely to play a role. In anemonefish, non-breeders have been observed cleaning and massaging the anemone host, defending against predators and food competitors, as well as displaying submission towards dominant breeders. This project aims to explore the evolution of these cooperative behaviours through testing the ‘pay to stay’ hypothesis which proposes that non-breeders behave cooperatively to appease the dominants in order to avoid group eviction. To investigate this we are using a combination of field observations and experimental manipulations, as well as applying a social network approach.

Photo credit: T. Rueger

Cooperation and conflict in anemonefish societies

International Society for Behaviour Ecology conference, 2022, Stockholm

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