Lund University is celebrating 350 years.


Javascript is not activated in your browser. This website needs javascript activated to work properly.
You are here

Sex, long life and the evolutionary transition to cooperative breeding in birds.

  • Philip Downing
  • Charlie Cornwallis
  • Ashleigh S Griffin
Publishing year: 2015
Language: English
Publication/Series: Royal Society of London. Proceedings B. Biological Sciences
Volume: 282
Issue: 1816
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: Royal Society

Abstract english

Long life is a typical feature of individuals living in cooperative societies. One explanation is that group living lowers mortality, which selects for longer life. Alternatively, long life may make the evolution of cooperation more likely by ensuring a long breeding tenure, making helping behaviour and queuing for breeding positions worthwhile. The benefit of queuing will, however, depend on whether individuals gain indirect fitness benefits while helping, which is determined by female promiscuity. Where promiscuity is high and therefore the indirect fitness benefits of helping are low, cooperation can still be favoured by an even longer life span. We present the results of comparative analyses designed to test the likelihood of a causal relationship between longevity and cooperative breeding by reconstructing ancestral states of cooperative breeding across birds, and by examining the effect of female promiscuity on the relationship between these two traits. We found that long life makes the evolution of cooperation more likely and that promiscuous cooperative species are exceptionally long lived. These results make sense of promiscuity in cooperative breeders and clarify the importance of life-history traits in the evolution of cooperative breeding, illustrating that cooperation can evolve via the combination of indirect and direct fitness benefits.


  • Evolutionary Biology


  • Molecular Ecology and Evolution Lab
  • ISSN: 1471-2954
Charlie Cornwallis
E-mail: charlie [dot] cornwallis [at] biol [dot] lu [dot] se

Senior lecturer


+46 46 222 30 26


Sölvegatan 37, Lund


Research group


Doctoral students and postdocs

PhD students, main supervisor

PhD students, assistant supervisor