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Coalitions in avian societies


Individuals in many group-living mammals cooperate by forming coalitions to gain access to limited resources such as food, territories or mates. Explanations for the evolution of cooperation between individuals have been successful in explaining some forms of cooperation, but these models are not able to explain observed variation in the willingness of individuals to engage in coalitions. This may be because research on coalitions has, until now, been based on observations rather than experiments and the in teraction between coalition structure and group structure remains unexplored. In contrast to mammals, coalitions in avian societies have been largely ignored. Research investigating cooperation in birds tends to focus almost exclusively on alloparental car e and reproductive conflicts in cooperatively breeding species. Therefore, a comprehensive understanding of social and reproductive decisions in social birds remains impossible. This project will deepen our insight into the evolution of coalitions by combining the mammalian view on social relationships with the unique experimental possibilities in an avian system, the group-living Apostlebird (Struthidea cinerea). By experimental manipulation of group membership, I will investigate the function, maintenance and formation of coalitions as well as the interaction between coalition structure and group structure. The results of this project offer the opportunity to understand the individual willingness to engage in coalitions and will deepen our insight in to ho w coalitions among individuals shape the evolution of social interactions among birds and other animals.

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