Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 69, Issue 2, pp 169–181 | Cite as

Group composition, relatedness, and dispersal in the cooperatively breeding cichlid Neolamprologus obscurus

  • Hirokazu TanakaEmail author
  • Dik Heg
  • Hirohiko Takeshima
  • Tomohiro Takeyama
  • Satoshi Awata
  • Mutsumi Nishida
  • Masanori Kohda
Original Paper


Cooperative breeding has been studied intensively in many species of birds and mammals but remain less well studied in fish. We report a remarkable new example of a cooperatively breeding cichlid from Lake Tanganyika, Neolamprologus obscurus. Using field observations and microsatellite DNA analyses, we studied group structure, helping behavior, relatedness, and dispersal of this species. We present four major observations. First, large territorial breeding males mated with one to eight breeding females, each of which was territorial and unrelated to another. Second, one to ten smaller fish (“subordinates”) of both sexes were allowed to stay inside the breeding females’ territories. Subordinates were often highly related to both the respective breeding male and female and performed territory defense and shelter maintenance, which is regarded as helping behaviors. Third, one to three subordinate males, similar in size to breeding females, were allowed to stay inside a breeding male’s territory but were not tolerated in the breeding females’ territories. Pairwise relatedness suggests these individuals are usually sons of the respective breeding male. Fourth, pairwise relatedness estimates suggest that juveniles delay dispersal and assist their mothers in raising offspring. As female subordinates grow up, they leave the father’s territory and disperse into other groups. In contrast, male subordinates leave their mother’s territory but remain within the territory of their father. The described social system makes N. obscurus a promising new model species to study the evolution of cooperative breeding.


Cooperative breeding Social system Related helper Delayed dispersal Fish 



We thank Tetsumi Takahashi, Kazutaka Ota, Haruki Ochi, Hiroki Hata, Michio Hori, and the staff of the Lake Tanganyika Research Unit, Mpulungu, Zambia, especially Harris Phiri, Danny Syniynza, Ruben Shapola, and Henry Simpembwa for supporting our studies at the field. We are grateful to Satoshi Nanami and Sho Furuichi for statistical discussions and Joachim Frommen and three anonymous referees for helpful comments on early versions of this manuscript. This work was financially supported by Grants-in-Aid from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Japan, to MK.

Ethical standards

The research presented here was conducted with permission from the Zambian Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries and complies with current Zambian law. We treated fish in compliance with the guidelines of the Animal Care and Use Committee of Osaka City University, the Japan Ethological Society, and the Ichthyological Society of Japan.

Supplementary material

265_2014_1830_MOESM1_ESM.xlsx (1.7 mb)
ESM 1 (XLSX 1767 kb)
265_2014_1830_MOESM2_ESM.xlsx (12 kb)
ESM 2 (XLSX 12 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hirokazu Tanaka
    • 1
    Email author
  • Dik Heg
    • 2
  • Hirohiko Takeshima
    • 3
  • Tomohiro Takeyama
    • 1
  • Satoshi Awata
    • 4
  • Mutsumi Nishida
    • 3
  • Masanori Kohda
    • 1
  1. 1.Laboratory of Animal Sociology, Department of Biology and Geosciences, Graduate School of ScienceOsaka City UniversityOsakaJapan
  2. 2.Department of Clinical Research, Clinical Trials UnitUniversity of BernBernSwitzerland
  3. 3.Atmosphere and Ocean Research InstituteUniversity of TokyoKashiwa-shiJapan
  4. 4.Sado Marine Biological Station, Faculty of ScienceNiigata UniversitySadoJapan

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