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Is kin cooperation going on undetected in marine bird colonies?


In multitudinous breeding colonies, kin interactions could go unnoticed because we are unaware of the kinship among adults we observe. Evidence of cooperation and competition between close adult kin in a blue-footed booby colony was sought by analyzing patterns of natal dispersal and proximity of nests. Male and female recruits nested closer to their own natal sites than to their parents’ current sites. Males (only) dispersed less far when both parents were present than when no parent or one parent was present, but not selectively close to fathers versus mothers when these were divorced. Neither parental presence nor parental proximity affected breeding success of recruits of either sex. Although distances between the nests of simultaneously recruiting broodmates were unrelated to their sex, males dispersed 13.1 m less when a sister was present than when a brother was present. Neither sex was affected in its dispersal distance by the presence or hatching order/dominance of a broodmate. Neither sex was affected in its breeding success by the presence versus absence of a broodmate, although female success increased with proximity of their brothers. Parents and sisters may actively or passively help males establish their first territories near their natal sites and nearby brothers may help females in their first breeding attempts; otherwise, boobies do not influence each other’s natal dispersal and first breeding success. It appears that boobies do not nest selectively close to or far from their parents, offspring, or broodmates. Why there is apparently so little cooperation and altruism between close adult relatives in booby colonies is puzzling.

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We thank David Queller, Carlos Cordero, César Domínguez, and Juan Nuñez for very helpful discussion of the results, two anonymous reviewers for constructive comments on the manuscript, V. V. Krishnan for the program that expresses nest locations, and José Luis Osorno and numerous volunteers for dedicated work in the field. Fieldwork depended on the generous support of many fishermen, the Secretaría del Medioambiente y Recursos Naturales, and the Mexican Navy. Finance was provided by the Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (4722-N9407, C01-47599, D112-903581, PCCNCNA-031528), the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (IN211491), the National Geographic Society (3065-85, 4535-91), and the Conservation and Research Foundation. S.-Y. Kim was supported by a postdoctoral fellowship of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

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Correspondence to Hugh Drummond.

Additional information

Communicated by I. Hartley

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Drummond, H., Torres, R., Rodríguez Juarez, C. et al. Is kin cooperation going on undetected in marine bird colonies?. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 64, 647–655 (2010).

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  • Colonial nesting
  • Kin proximity
  • Kin structure
  • Dispersal