Helpers compensate for age‐related declines in parental care and offspring survival in a cooperatively breeding bird

Martijn Hammers, Sjouke A. Kingma, Lotte A. van Boheemen, Alexandra M. Sparks, Terry Burke, Hannah L. Dugdale, David S. Richardson, Jan Komdeur

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Offspring from elderly parents often have lower survival due to parental senescence. In cooperatively breeding species, where offspring care is shared between breeders and helpers, the alloparental care provided by helpers is predicted to mitigate the impact of parental senescence on offspring provisioning and, subsequently, offspring survival. We test this prediction using data from a long‐term study on cooperatively breeding Seychelles warblers (Acrocephalus sechellensis). We find that the nestling provisioning rate of female breeders declines with their age. Further, the total brood provisioning rate and the first‐year survival probability of offspring decline progressively with age of the female breeder, but these declines are mitigated when helpers are present. This effect does not arise because individual helpers provide more care in response to the lower provisioning of older dominant females, but because older female breeders have recruited more helpers, thereby receiving more overall care for their brood. We do not find such effects for male breeders. These results indicate that alloparental care can alleviate the fitness costs of senescence for breeders, which suggests an interplay between age and cooperative breeding.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)143-153
Number of pages11
JournalEvolution Letters
Issue number2
Early online date20 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2021


  • Ageing
  • cooperative breeding
  • parental care
  • senescence
  • sociality

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