Within- and between-group dynamics in an obligate cooperative breeder


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Abstract

Cooperative behaviour can have profound effects on demography. In many cooperative species, components of fitness (e.g. survival, reproductive success) are diminished in smaller social groups. These effects (termed group-level component Allee effects) may lead smaller groups to grow relatively slowly or fail to persist (termed group-level demographic Allee effects).If these group-level effects were to propagate to the population level, small populations would grow slowly or decline to extinction (termed population-level demographic Allee effects). However, empirical studies have revealed little evidence of such population-level effects.Theoretical studies suggest that dispersal behaviour could either cause or prevent the propagation of group-level Allee effects to the population level. We therefore characterized within- and between-pack dynamics in a population of African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) to test these contrasting model predictions.Larger wild dog packs produced more pups, and their members experienced higher survival than those in smaller packs. Nevertheless, larger packs grew more slowly than smaller packs, because natal adults dispersed away from them. Most packs either died out in whole-pack death events or broke up when their founders died, irrespective of pack size. Overall, packs showed negative density dependence rather than group-level demographic Allee effects.Larger packs produced more, but not larger, dispersal groups and hence generated more, but not larger, new packs. Larger packs thus contributed more than smaller packs to the number of packs in the population, but their large size did not propagate to their daughter packs. This pattern helps to explain the absence of population-level Allee effects in this species.Dispersal behaviour, itself driven by natural selection on individual reproductive strategies, played a pivotal role in population dynamics, leading to the formation of new packs and limiting the size of established packs. Understanding dispersal processes is likely to be important to understanding the population dynamics of other cooperatively breeding species.

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