Who cares? Individual contributions to pup care by breeders vs non-breeders in the cooperatively breeding banded mongoose (Mungos mungo)

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Knowledge of the investment rules adopted by breeders and non-breeders, and the factors that affect them, is essential to understanding cooperative breeding as part of a life-history tactic. Although the factors that affect relative contributions to care of young have been studied in some cooperative bird species, there is little data on mammals, making coherent generalisations within mammals and across taxa difficult. In this study, we investigate individual contributions to pup escorting, a strong predictor of offspring provisioning, in the banded mongoose (Mungos mungo), a cooperatively breeding mammal in which reproductive skew is low. Contributions by those under a year old (which virtually never breed) increased with age and body weight but were generally low. Among older age classes (yearlings and adults), individuals that had not bred in the current litter generally contributed less to escorting than those that had bred (with the exception of yearling males). In addition, females that did not breed reduced their investment if they were heavy presumably because such females are more likely to breed in the following event and benefit from saving resources for this. The generally greater contributions by breeders in banded mongooses contrast with the recent findings in meerkats (Suricata suricatta), another obligatorily cooperative mongoose with similar group size but wherein reproductive skew is high. Our results suggest that relative contributions by breeders vs non-breeders are not dependent on group size but on the ratio of breeders to carers and the probability that non-breeders will breed in the near future.

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