Original Article

Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 57, Issue 1, pp 23-31

First online:

Does the presence of non-breeders enhance the fitness of breeders? An experimental analysis in the clown anemonefish Amphiprion percula

  • Peter BustonAffiliated withDepartment of Neurobiology and Behavior, Cornell UniversityNational Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, University of California Email author 

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The stability of animal societies depends on individuals’ decisions about whether to tolerate or evict others and about whether to stay or leave. These decisions, in turn, depend on individuals’ costs and benefits of living in the group. The clown anemonefish, Amphiprion percula, lives in groups composed of a breeding pair and zero to four non-breeders. To determine why breeders accept the presence of non-breeders in this species I investigated the effect of non-breeders on multiple components of the breeders’ fitness. Non-breeders did not assist breeders in any obvious way. Experimental removal of non-breeders had no significant effect on the survival, growth, or reproductive success of breeders. Experimental removal of one of the breeding pair showed that non-breeders had little effect on the time taken for a widowed breeder to recommence breeding. The results indicate that the presence of non-breeders neither enhances, nor reduces, the fitness of breeders in A. percula. I suggest that non-breeders might modulate their effect on the fitness of breeders, either by reducing the costs they inflict or by increasing the benefits they provide, such that it just pays breeders to tolerate, rather than to evict, them. This study illustrates that animal societies can be stable even when some individuals gain nothing from the association.


Cooperative breeding Helpers Sociality Reproductive skew Marine fish