Strategic use of allopreening in family-living wrens

Abstract

A prominent interaction in the lives of social mammals is allogrooming. Individuals allogroom strategically and preferentially, grooming high-quality individuals that control access to resources. This results in distinct patterns of allogrooming within social groups, such that some individuals are groomed more than the others, some dyads express symmetry in allogrooming, and others exchange allogrooming for other benefits. Allopreening, the avian equivalent of allogrooming, occurs commonly in group-living birds, providing the opportunity to test whether social birds also use allopreening strategically in their social relationships. I examined this hypothesis in family-living buff-breasted wrens (Cantorchilus leucotis) by examining allopreening initiation, reciprocation and rate during interactions involving breeding adults and offspring. Buff-breasted wrens exhibit a nuclear family structure in which pairs display long-term partnerships, and juveniles delay dispersing from natal territories for about 10 months. Allopreening was symmetrical between breeding partners: males and females who initiated and reciprocated allopreening of partners with similar frequency, and within reciprocated bouts, allopreening was time-matched. Pairs in which allopreening was not observed were more likely to divorce, but allopreening patterns did not change in successive years of partnerships. Parent–offspring allopreening, by contrast, was asymmetrical in pattern; parents initiated allopreening more than their offspring, and reciprocation never occurred. The different patterns of allopreening observed within buff-breasted wren families suggest the strategic use of allopreening, possibly for the maintenance of long-term partnerships and in exchange for social benefits from offspring.

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Acknowledgements

I thank Autoridad Nacional del Ambiente for the permission to conduct research in Panama; the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute for logistical support; and C. Edwards, M. Mico and M. Vonhof for their assistance in the field. I thank M. Vonhof and D. Karowe for their encouragement and helpful discussion, and D. Rubenstein and two anonymous reviewers for their excellent comments that have improved the manuscript. This work was supported by the American Museum of Natural History, the American Ornithologist’s Union, the Animal Behavior Society, the Sigma Xi and the NSERC.

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The author declares that she has no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Sharon A. Gill.

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This study complied with the current laws of Panamá, the country in which the work was performed.

Communicated by D. Rubenstein

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Gill, S.A. Strategic use of allopreening in family-living wrens. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 66, 757–763 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-012-1323-6

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Keywords

  • Allopreening
  • Family living
  • Long-term partnership
  • Neotropical
  • Social relationship