Identifying the factors that modulate cooperative and competitive behaviours is the key to understanding social evolution. However, how ecological factors affect social conflict and their fitness consequences remain relatively unexplored. Here, using both a game-theoretical model and empirical data, we show that Taiwan yuhinas (Yuhina brunneiceps)—a joint-nesting species in which group members are unrelated—employ more cooperative strategies in unfavourable environmental conditions. Fighting duration was lower, fewer total eggs were laid and incubation was more likely to start after all females completed egg laying (which causes more synchronous egg hatching). Surprisingly, as a consequence, there were more surviving offspring in unfavourable conditions because the cooperative strategies resulted in fewer dead nestlings. To our knowledge, this study is the first theoretical analysis and empirical study demonstrating that an unfavourable environment reduces social conflict and results in better fitness consequences in social vertebrates.
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We thank Dustin Rubenstein, Mark Liu and Douglas Mock for helpful comments on early versions of the manuscript. S.-F.S. greatly appreciates the support of Director Wen-Hsiung Li at Academia Sinica, and the advice and support of Stephen Emlen, Sandra Vehrencamp and Kern Reeve during his Ph.D. study at Cornell University. Finally, we thank P.-F. Lee, I.-H. Chang, Sylvester Karimi, Q.-D. Zhong, S.-W. Fu, F.-Y. Huang, C.-J. Chang, Y.-H. Chang, I.-F. Liao, K.-C. Cheng, H.-C. Chen, Z.-N. Yuan, and more than 30 volunteers from the NTU Nature Conservation Students' Club, Department of Life Science and School of Forestry and Resource Conservation and the staffs in Mei-Feng Highland Experimental Farm for their help in the field and lab. This research was funded by the National Science Council of Taiwan (NSC, to H.-W.Y. and S.-F.S.), Academia Sinica, Laboratory of Ornithology, Department of Neurobiology and Behavior and Hu Shih Memorial Award, East Asia Program at Cornell University (to S.-F.S.).
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
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