Manipulating the need for help in a cooperatively breeding cichlid: Space competition affects helpers' ability to respond

A. Keinan*, S. Balshine-Earn, A. Lotem

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Evidence that competition among helpers affects helping behavior in cooperative breeding animals may shed light on our understanding of the "helping at the nest" phenomenon. Recent research on cooperatively breeding cichlids (Neolamprologus brichardi and N. pulcher) from Lake Tanganyika suggests that helpers defend individual sub-territories within the family territory and, consequently, limit the access of other helpers to the nest. Here, we report on a captive population study, in which we experimentally increased the need for help, and tested whether the helpers' ability to respond was affected by territoriality. We increased the need for help by: (1) decreasing oxygen concentration in the water during the egg stage (i.e., increasing the need for egg fanning); (2) pouring sand into the nest after the eggs had hatched (i.e., stimulating the need for digging and cleaning; and (3) transferring young fry from the nest to the vicinity of specific helpers. Helpers whose sub-territories overlapped with the nest increased their helping effort in response to manipulations, while helpers in territories that did not overlap with the nest showed no response to these manipulations. However, when we transferred fry from the nest to non-overlapping territories, whose owners did not help during the first part of the experiment, they responded with intensive parental care activity (collecting, digging, and fry defense). These results suggest that helpers in remote sub-territories are motivated to help but may be prevented from helping by competition among helpers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)164
Number of pages1
JournalIsrael Journal of Zoology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2000


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