Individual performance in complex social systems: the greylag goose example

  • Kurt Kotrschal
  • Isabella B.R. Scheiber
  • Katharina Hirschenhauser


Convergent social structures can be found in taxa that split a long time ago, for example more than 230 Mio years ago as in the case of mammals and birds. Such convergence is explained by common selection regimes, as all social systems are shaped by sex-specific tactics and strategies to optimise their reproductive success. In addition, the major social mechanisms, brain and physiology, are highly conserved throughout the vertebrates. Manoeuvring social contexts tends to be energetically costly and, hence, favours efficient decision-making. Therefore, at least in vertebrates, complex social systems generally select for social cognition. As an example for social convergence between mammals and birds, we introduce the surprisingly complex social system of greylag geese, featuring components such as a female-bonded clan structure, long parent-offspring relationships, as well as elaborate and highly functional patterns of mutual social support. Our results show that partners in reproductively successful goose pairs are in hormonal synchrony and provide social support to each other. We suggest that social support may be a major structuring principle of other social systems with long-term individualized and valuable partnerships as well. In general, individual performance in social systems is determined by the interplay between proximate mechanisms and ultimate functions.


Agonistic Interaction Transitive Inference Barnacle Goose Greylag Goose Behav Ecol 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kurt Kotrschal
    • 1
    • 2
  • Isabella B.R. Scheiber
    • 1
  • Katharina Hirschenhauser
    • 3
  1. 1.Konrad Lorenz Research StationGrünauAustria
  2. 2.Dept. of Behavioural BiologyUniversity of WienWienAustria
  3. 3.Dept. Behavioural NeurobiologyMPI for OrnithologySeewiesenGermany

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