Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Fairy wrens are accountants of the animal kingdom, not altruistic as previously thought

Date:
March 20, 2011
Source:
Monash University
Summary:
A puzzling example of altruism in nature has been debunked with researchers showing that purple-crowned fairy wrens are in reality cunningly planning for their own future when they assist in raising other birds' young by balancing the amount of assistance they give with the benefits they expect to receive in the future.

A purple-crowned fairy-wren.
Credit: Image courtesy of Monash University

A puzzling example of altruism in nature has been debunked with researchers showing that purple-crowned fairy wrens are in reality cunningly planning for their own future when they assist in raising other birds' young by balancing the amount of assistance they give with the benefits they expect to receive in the future.

Dr Anne Peters, of the Monash University School of Biological Sciences, together with co-authors Sjouke Kingma from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology and Michelle L. Hall of the Australian National University, have conducted a long term study of the cooperative breeding behaviour of fairy-wrens in tropical Australia.

The results, published in the journal The American Naturalist, show that helpers are not motivated by kindness.

"The study showed that the seemingly selfless little helpers are in fact carefully calculating accountants" said Dr Peters, senior author of the study.

Cooperative breeding, where birds apparently selflessly raise others' offspring, has long perplexed biologists as this behaviour runs counter to Darwin's theory of natural selection, which predicts that individuals invest only in their own reproduction.

Fairy-wrens are habitual cooperative breeders. The helpers are generally older silblings or half-siblings of the current nestlings, and their behaviour is likely explained by an instinctive desire to see more of their shared genes entering the gene pool.

Purple-crowned fairy-wrens extend this assistance to unrelated nestlings.

Dr Peters' study shows that these apparently altruistic helpers are actually playing a selfish game: they help when their chances of inheriting the current breeding territory are greater, and they are thus helping to raise their own future assistants.

"Ours is the first study to show that helpers at the nest adjust their behaviour precisely according to multiple potential rewards: they provide food to kin, and to unrelated nestlings to produce future helpers of their own," Dr Peters said.

"However, we suspect once more researchers look at their study species in this dual light, more cases will be found of helpers that can do their sums so precisely."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Monash University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Sjouke A. Kingma, Michelle L. Hall and Anne Peters. Multiple Benefits Drive Helping Behavior in a Cooperatively Breeding Bird: An Integrated Analysis. The American Naturalist, March 10, 2011 DOI: 10.5061/dryad.8210

Cite This Page:

Monash University. "Fairy wrens are accountants of the animal kingdom, not altruistic as previously thought." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 March 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110318102252.htm>.
Monash University. (2011, March 20). Fairy wrens are accountants of the animal kingdom, not altruistic as previously thought. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 28, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110318102252.htm
Monash University. "Fairy wrens are accountants of the animal kingdom, not altruistic as previously thought." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110318102252.htm (accessed July 28, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Monday, July 28, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Sea Turtle Hatchlings Emerge from Nest

Raw: Sea Turtle Hatchlings Emerge from Nest

AP (July 27, 2014) A live-streaming webcam catches loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings emerging from a nest in the Florida Keys. (July 27) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Trees Could Save More Than 850 Lives Each Year

Trees Could Save More Than 850 Lives Each Year

Newsy (July 27, 2014) A national study conducted by the USDA Forest Service found that trees collectively save more than 850 lives on an annual basis. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
What's To Blame For Worst Ebola Outbreak In History?

What's To Blame For Worst Ebola Outbreak In History?

Newsy (July 27, 2014) A U.S. doctor has tested positive for the deadly Ebola virus, as the worst-ever outbreak continues to grow. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
The New York Times Backs Pot Legalization

The New York Times Backs Pot Legalization

Newsy (July 27, 2014) The New York Times has officially endorsed the legalization of marijuana, but why now, and to what end? Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins