Cooperation and competition among relatives

Individuals in viscous populations (with limited dispersal) live in close proximity with kin, allowing for cooperation among relatives. However, living with relatives can also be costly as individuals are competing with their own kin for space and resources, and of course there is substantial risk of inbreeding! In 2008 I set-up a new field based study system on cooperatively breeding red-winged fairy-wrens (Malurus elegans).  All 10 Australian fairy-wren species are cooperative breeders: males stay with their parents to help rear the next brood. In my study species females too stay at home, making this system very suitable to study both the costs and benefits of living in with kin. This study has not only resulted in new insights on costs and benefits of group living, but also on some of the sophisticated behaviours that these birds show to avoid these (e.g. they are among the most promiscuous of all birds!).

This study has become a long-term study which is now also part of several global scale comparative/meta-analyses on the effects of e.g. climate change. Data from such populations as this one is particularly important, because data from southern hemisphere species is relatively scarce.