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Experimental evidence of reciprocal altruism in the pied flycatcher

Abstract

Although human behaviour abounds with reciprocal altruism, few examples exist documenting reciprocal altruism in animals. Recent non-experimental evidence suggests that reciprocal altruism may be more common in nature than previously documented. Here we present experimental evidence of mobbing behaviour, the joint assault on a predator in an attempt to drive it away, as reciprocal altruism in the breeding pied flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca). Given a choice, pied flycatchers assisted in mobbing initiated by co-operating neighbours and did not join in mobbing when initiated by conspecific neighbours which had defected from necessary assistance 1 h before. The results suggest the birds followed a ‘tit-for-tat’-like strategy and that mobbing behaviour of breeding birds may be explained in terms of reciprocal altruism.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Gary D. Ramey, Olof Leimar, André Dhondt and Peter Marler for comments on the manuscript. Staffan Ulfstrand, John Quinn, Derek Parsons and Ilva Everte provided valuable suggestions and advice in preparing the experiment. Suggestions by Ben Sheldon helped us to prepare the secondary control experiment. Eberhard Curio and Walther Thiede encouraged us to test mobbing as a type of tit-for-tat experimentally. This work was supported by the Latvian Science Council (IK) and EU VPD1/ESF/PIAA/04/NP/3.2.3.1/0003/0065/ (KI). The experiments comply with the current laws of the Republic of Latvia.

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Correspondence to Indrikis Krams.

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Communicated by M. Leonard

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Krams, I., Krama, T., Igaune, K. et al. Experimental evidence of reciprocal altruism in the pied flycatcher. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 62, 599–605 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-007-0484-1

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Keywords

  • Reciprocal altruism
  • Co-operation
  • Anti-predator behaviour
  • Mobbing
  • Pied flycatcher