Maternal allocation in cooperative breeders: Should mothers match or compensate for expected helper contributions?

J.L. Savage*, A.F. Russell, R.A. Johnstone

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


Among species with variable numbers of individuals contributing to offspring care, an individual's investment strategy should depend upon both the size of the breeding group and the relative contributions of each carer. Existing theoretical work on carer investment rules has, however, largely focused on biparental care, and on modelling offspring provisioning in isolation from other stages of investment. Consequently, there has been little exploration of how maternal investment prior to birth might be expected to influence carer provisioning decisions after birth, and how these should be modified by the number of carers present. In particular, it is unclear whether mothers should increase or decrease their investment in each offspring under favourable rearing conditions, and whether this differs under alternative assumptions about the consequences of being ‘high quality’ at birth. We develop a game-theoretical model of cooperative care that incorporates female control of prebirth investment, and allow increased maternal investment to either substitute for later investment (giving offspring a ‘head start’) or raise the value of later investment (a ‘silver spoon’). We show that mothers reduce prebirth investment under better rearing conditions (more helpers) when investment is substitutable, leading to concealed helper effects. In contrast, when maternal prebirth investment primes offspring to benefit more from postbirth care, mothers should take advantage of good care environments by investing more in offspring both before and after birth. These results provide novel mechanisms to explain contrasting patterns of maternal investment across cooperative breeders.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)189-197
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • egg size
  • clutch size
  • trade-off
  • parental investment
  • male attractiveness
  • offspring quality
  • breeding birds
  • body-size
  • number
  • growth


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