Researchers from Taiwan found a bird species that becomes more cooperative when hit by unfavourable environmental conditions. Their report was published today in the journal Nature Communications.
The results from this work show an outstanding example of how ecological factors can have a significant influence on cooperative and competitive behaviour, reducing social conflict among group members, as the authors explain in their report:
"This study is the first theoretical analysis and empirical study demonstrating that an unfavourable environment reduces social conflict and results in better fitness consequences in social vertebrates".
The research, led by Sheng-Feng Shen, focused on breeding groups of Taiwan yuninas (Yuhina brunneiceps), a species of bird known for living in group nests shared with unrelated members. These groups can exist over several years, and females can sometimes behave aggressively when competing for access to the nest, especially during the breeding season.
Little is known about how enviromental factors affect social behavior in birds or other animals. Theoretical predictions, based on the so called game-theory model, predict that cooperative behavior should evolve under unfavorable condition. For these birds, this means that during times of heavy rains they should become more cooperative, and the findings of this work confirm this expectation, as their cooperative strategy resulted in more surviving offspring, despite the unfavorable enviromental conditions.
As the authors explain in their report "...in our specific case and general model, group resources or benefits of cooperation are important for improving individual fitness". Each individuals would obtain less benefits if they competed with each-other", so this leads to the evolution of a more peaceful behavior, at least while things are tough.
For the original publication, go to: http://www.nature.com/ncomms/journal/v3/n6/full/ncomms1894.html