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Dominance, not kinship, determines individual position within the communal roosts of a cooperatively breeding bird

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


  • Clare J. Napper
  • Stuart Sharp
  • Andrew McGowan
  • Michelle Simeoni
  • Ben J. Hatchwell
Journal publication date12/2013
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Number of pages11
Original languageEnglish


Kin selection has played an important role in the evolution and maintenance of cooperative breeding behaviour in many bird species. However, although relatedness has been shown to affect the investment decisions of helpers in such systems, less is known about the role that kin discrimination plays in other contexts, such as communal roosting. Individuals that roost communally benefit from reduced overnight heat loss, but the exact benefit derived depends on an individual's position in the roost which in turn is likely to be influenced by its position in its flock's dominance hierarchy. We studied the effects of kinship and other factors (sex, age, body size and flock sex ratio) on an individual's roosting position and dominance status in captive flocks of cooperatively breeding long-tailed tits Aegithalos caudatus. We found that overall, kinship had little influence on either variable tested; kinship had no effect on a bird's position in its flock's dominance hierarchy and the effect of kinship on roosting position was dependent on the bird's size. Males were generally dominant over females and birds were more likely to occupy preferred roosting positions if they were male, old and of high status. In this context, the effect of kinship on social interactions appears to be less important than the effects of other factors, possibly due to the complex kin structure of winter flocks compared to breeding groups.