Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 57, Issue 1, pp 23–31 | Cite as

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

  • Peter BustonEmail author
Original Article


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 



This work forms a portion of P.B.’s doctoral dissertation requirements (Cornell University). I thank my Ph.D. advisors Stephen Emlen, Paul Sherman, Kern Reeve, Amy McCune, and Andrew Bass, for incredible support; Maydianne Andrade, James Dale, Elizabeth Tibbetts, Peter Wrege, Andrew Zink, and Cornell’s ‘Behavior Lunch Bunch’ for helpful comments and discussion; John Mizeu, Mike Black, Claire Norris, Mike Moore, and the staffs of the Christensen Research Institute and the Jais Aben Resort for their assistance in Papua New Guinea; the landowners of Riwo Village, the Madang Provincial Government, and the Papua New Guinea Government for permitting my fieldwork. Support by Diane Christensen and the Christensen Fund, a National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant to S. Emlen (IBN-9623224), the Andrew W. Mellon Fund of the Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the Cornell and National Chapters of Sigma Xi, the International Women’s Fishing Association, and the Cornell University Department of Neurobiology and Behavior is gratefully acknowledged. P.B. is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow of the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, a Center funded by NSF (grant no. DEB-0072909), the University of California, and the Santa Barbara campus.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Neurobiology and BehaviorCornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  2. 2.National Center for Ecological Analysis and SynthesisUniversity of CaliforniaSanta BarbaraUSA

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