Evol Ecol Res 9: 1163-1185 (2007)     Full PDF if your library subscribes.

Group breeding in vertebrates: linking individual- and population-level approaches

Rebecca J. Safran,1,5* Veronica A.J. Doerr,2,3‡ Paul W. Sherman,4 Erik D. Doerr,2,3‡ Samuel M. Flaxman5 and David W. Winkler1

1Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA, 2School of Botany and Zoology, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT, Australia, 3School of Environmental Sciences and Natural Resources Management, University of New England, Armidale, NSW, Australia, 4Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA and 5Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, USA

Address all correspondence to: R.J. Safran, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309, USA.
e-mail: rebecca.safran@colorado.edu


Background: Why individuals breed in groups and why patterns of group breeding are so variable are long-standing questions in evolutionary ecology. Researchers have tended to study either population-level patterns such as breeding group size or else the decisions that individuals make when joining groups, but have rarely explicitly linked the two, using knowledge of individual decisions to predict larger-scale population patterns.

Aim: We describe an integrated method designed to categorize and explain a diversity of vertebrate social systems, with a focus on colonial breeding. This approach places group breeding within an evolutionary context by first elucidating the process of group formation, identifying decision rules that individuals use when joining groups, and verifying their fitness consequences, then using these individual-level processes to predict and understand patterns of population-level variation.

Results: To facilitate the identification of decision rules, we differentiate between groups that form as a consequence of resource patchiness, and groups that form because individuals derive social benefits from breeding in close association with conspecifics. We next demonstrate how these decision rules inform us about the maintenance of population-level patterns of group breeding, like group size variation.

Worked examples: We illustrate this process-to-pattern approach with several empirical examples, highlighting its efficiency relative to the more traditional approach of defining pattern first. By identifying individual-based decision rules in four different vertebrate taxa, we demonstrate the power and utility of using individual-level decision making to explain larger-scale patterns of group living.

Keywords: coloniality, group breeding, group size, individual decisions, resource patchiness, social benefits, sociality.

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        © 2007 Rebecca J. Safran and Veronica A.J. Doerr. All EER articles are copyrighted by their authors. All authors endorse, permit and license Evolutionary Ecology Ltd. to grant its subscribing institutions/libraries the copying privileges specified below without additional consideration or payment to them or to Evolutionary Ecology, Ltd. These endorsements, in writing, are on file in the office of Evolutionary Ecology, Ltd. Consult authors for permission to use any portion of their work in derivative works, compilations or to distribute their work in any commercial manner.

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