Published on Wed Oct 06 2021

Cooperative breeding and the emergence of multilevel societies in birds

Camerlenghi, E., McQueen, A., Delhey, K., Cook, C. N., Kingma, S. A., Farine, D. R., Peters, A.

Multilevel societies (MLSs) are considered one of the most complex forms of animal societies. Although thought to mainly occur in mammals, it is suggested that MLSs could be under-detected in birds.

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Abstract

Multilevel societies (MLSs), where social levels are hierarchically nested within each other, are considered one of the most complex forms of animal societies. Although thought to mainly occur in mammals, it is suggested that MLSs could be under-detected in birds. Here we propose that the emergence of MLSs could be common in cooperatively breeding birds, as both systems are favoured by similar ecological and social drivers. We first investigate this proposition by systematically comparing evidence for multilevel social structure in cooperative and non-cooperative birds in Australia and New Zealand, global hotspots for cooperative breeding. We then analyse non-breeding social networks of cooperatively breeding superb fairy-wrens (Malurus cyaneus) to reveal their structured multilevel society, with three hierarchical social levels that are stable across years. Our results confirm recent predictions that MLSs are likely to be widespread in birds and suggest that these societies could be particularly common in cooperatively breeding birds.