Helpers don't help when it's hot in a cooperatively breeding bird, the Southern Pied Babbler

Amanda R. Bourne, Amanda R. Ridley, Susan J. Cunningham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Web of Science)


Cooperative breeding, where more than two individuals invest in rearing a single brood, occurs in many bird species globally and often contributes to improved breeding outcomes. However, high temperatures are associated with poor breeding outcomes in many species, including cooperative species. We used data collected over three austral summer breeding seasons to investigate the contribution that helpers make to daytime incubation in a cooperatively breeding species, the Southern Pied Babbler Turdoides bicolor, and the ways in which their contribution is influenced by temperature. Helpers spent a significantly higher percentage of their time foraging (41.8 ± 13.7%) and a significantly lower percentage of their time incubating (18.5 ± 18.8%) than members of the breeding pair (31.3 ± 11% foraging and 37.4 ± 15.7% incubating). In groups with only one helper, the helper's contribution to incubation was similar to that of breeders. However, helpers in larger groups contributed less to incubation, individually, with some individuals investing no time in incubation on a given observation day. Helpers significantly decrease their investment in incubation on hot days (>35.5°C), while breeders tend to maintain incubation effort as temperatures increase. Our results demonstrate that pied babblers share the workload of incubation unequally between breeders and helpers, and this inequity is more pronounced during hot weather. These results may help to explain why recent studies have found that larger group size does not buffer against the impacts of high temperatures in this and other cooperatively breeding species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)562-570
Number of pages9
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2023


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