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Recruitment and Benefits of Helpers in a Cooperative Breeder

Jessica A. Cusick, Ph.D. Candidate
Department of Biological Science, Florida State University

Monday, November 6, 2017

5:15 pm, S1-149


About the seminar

Cooperation is a complex behavior where individuals act in ways that increase the fitness of others. Interestingly, individuals that experience similar developmental conditions still vary in whether and how much they cooperate. Individual variation remains an overlooked component of cooperative breeding and could provide an explanation for cooperation, even among unrelated individuals. My research investigates individual variation in cooperation in the cooperatively breeding brown-headed nuthatch (Sitta pusilla). Brown-headed nuthatches vary in cooperative tendency: 30% of breeding pairs are assisted by nonbreeding male helpers and not all young males help. Breeders' previous nesting success, not habitat or previous cooperative status, significantly predicted helper recruitment. But 40% of failed breeders still recruited helpers. Helpers often fledged from the breeders' previous nest (60% n=33), but were not always genetic relatives. These results indicate that nesting success and genetic relatedness were neither necessary nor sufficient to explain variation in helper recruitment. These data highlight the need to consider other factors that may influence variation in cooperative behavior.


About the Speaker

Jessica A. Cusick
Ph.D. Candidate, Biological Science, Florida State University
M.S. Biological Sciences, Florida Atlantic University
B.A. Biological Sciences and Psychology, SUNY Binghamton University

I am a behavioral ecologist interested in how and why individuals interact to form complex social groups. My research investigates cooperative behavior, a complex social interaction where individuals act in ways that benefit others. My interests span across different study systems as I investigate the proximate mechanisms that influence individual variation in the propensity to cooperate, how individuals process complex information from their social and physical environment to form cooperative groups, and how cooperation can be beneficial or costly in different situations.


For more information, contact:

David Sloan Wilson, EvoS Director

Last Updated: 12/9/19