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Coral reef fish shape our understanding of social evolution

Project description

Studying the social evolution in the animal kingdom

The close relationship between coral reef fish and their anemone or coral hosts is foundational to coral reef ecosystems. The EU-funded SoEvoFish project aims to explore whether coral reef fish living in complex groups are related. SoEvoFish will focus on two species: the clown anemonefish Amphiprion percula (f. Pomacentridae) and the coral goby Paragobiodon xanthosomus (f. Gobiidae). Both form groups consisting of a breeding pair and one or several non-breeding subordinates. The project’s findings will explain the social evolution of these species: kin selection, ecological and social constraints, or synergistic effects.

Objective

Complex societies where some individuals forego reproduction, pose an evolutionary conundrum. There have been numerous attempts over past decades to explain why individuals capable of reproduction would give up the chance to propagate their own genes. Yet, there remain debates about the relative importance of various factors in shaping social evolution. Additionally, a clear bias towards the study of terrestrial animals prevents us from viewing the whole picture. The overall objective of the proposed study is to build a more general framework for social evolution in animals, by conducting novel studies of two model coral reef fish systems. Specifically, we will conduct in situ investigations on two species: the clown anemonefish Amphiprion percula (f. Pomacentridae) and the coral goby Paragobiodon xanthosomus (f. Gobiidae). Both species are ideal models as they form groups consisting of a breeding pair and one or several non-breeding subordinates. We will test three hypotheses that explain the social evolution of these species: kin selection, whereby nonbreeders gain fitness benefit by helping close relatives reproduce; ecological and social constraints, whereby non-breeders stay in the group and do not contest for breeding positions because of poor alternative options both outside and inside the group; and synergistic effects, where group augmentation leads to large groups benefiting all members. The project will be conducted at Boston University (BU) and the University of Exeter (UoE), bringing together leading experts of social evolution in fish, Prof Pete Buston, and in mammals and insects, Prof Mike Cant. Thus, the project will promote a two-way transfer of knowledge, and enable us to form a more complete picture of social evolution in the animal kingdom. The proposed work will provide extensive training for the experienced researcher, Dr. Theresa Rueger, and enable her to build on her existing expertise to develop an independent career in research.

Coordinator

THE UNIVERSITY OF EXETER
Net EU contribution
€ 271 732,80
Address
THE QUEEN'S DRIVE NORTHCOTE HOUSE
EX4 4QJ Exeter
United Kingdom

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Region
South West (England) Devon Devon CC
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
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Total cost
€ 271 732,80

Partners (1)