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It takes a village, but only in times of plenty, acorn woodpeckers show

Date:
July 27, 2011
Source:
University of Chicago Press Journals
Summary:
Acorn woodpeckers are cooperative breeders, meaning adult birds often join breeding groups and help raise young that are not their own. Scientists have long thought that communal breeding may have evolved to help birds deal with food shortages and other difficult times. But a new study shows that for acorn woodpeckers, the opposite seems to be true: Help contributed by other family members is beneficial only when the acorn crop is large.

Above: an acorn woodpecker on its granary. Stored acorns are a critical food resource for this species. Below: an adult male acorn woodpecker. This species lives in family groups including helpers, who are young from prior nests.
Credit: Walter Koenig

Acorn woodpeckers are cooperative breeders, meaning adult birds often join breeding groups and help raise young that are not their own. Scientists have long thought that communal breeding may have evolved to help birds deal with food shortages and other difficult times. But a study by researchers from Cornell and Gonzaga shows that for acorn woodpeckers, the opposite seems to be true: Help contributed by other family members is beneficial only when the acorn crop is large.

"Apparently when the crop is poor, the additional food that helpers provide to nestlings doesn't make up for the extra resources those helpers are using," said Walter Koenig, the study's lead author.

"Whereas when the acorn crop is good, their help is enough to significantly increase both the survivorship of the other birds in the group and the number of young the group can fledge. At least in acorn woodpeckers, living together in a family only confers benefits when food is plentiful."

The research appears in the American Naturalist.


Story Source:

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


Journal Reference:

  1. Walter D. Koenig, Eric L. Walters, Joseph Haydock. Variable Helper Effects, Ecological Conditions, and the Evolution of Cooperative Breeding in the Acorn Woodpecker. The American Naturalist, 2011; 178 (2): 145 DOI: 10.1086/660832

Cite This Page:

University of Chicago Press Journals. "It takes a village, but only in times of plenty, acorn woodpeckers show." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 July 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110727164933.htm>.
University of Chicago Press Journals. (2011, July 27). It takes a village, but only in times of plenty, acorn woodpeckers show. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110727164933.htm
University of Chicago Press Journals. "It takes a village, but only in times of plenty, acorn woodpeckers show." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110727164933.htm (accessed October 22, 2014).

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