Geographic variation in social organization of Galapagos mockingbirds: ecological correlates of group territoriality and cooperative breeding.

To investigate ecological influences on cooperative social organization, I studied the four allopatric species of mockingbirds (Nesomimus spp.) endemic to the Galapagos archipelago on four islands. On three small, low and arid islands (Genovesa, Champion and Espanola), mockingbird territories filled all terrestrial habitat, mean group size varied from 4.5 to 14.2 adults, maximum group size ranged from seven to 24 birds, and 70-100% of groups contained more than two birds. San Cristobal is larger and higher, and it supports a broader range of habitats. At one highland and two coastal sites on this island, mockingbirds did not hold territories in all available habitats, group size averaged 2.2 adults, only 25% of groups were larger than two, and none included more than three adults. Adults dispersed into vacant habitat to establish new territories only on San Cristobal. Helping behavior has not yet been observed on San Cristobal, but it occurs on the other three islands. These results support the hypothesis that social groups and cooperative breeding are maintained where limited availability of preferred habitat constrains dispersal. The mechanism relaxing habitat saturation on San Cristobal, however, remains undetermined. Predation by introduced rats and cats may reduce survival and indirectly reduce group size; these predators are absent from Genovesa, Champion and Espanola. Differences in food supplies could also affect inter- and intra-island variation in population density. Variation is social organization among and arid coastal sites on the four islands, and similarity between climatically different sites on San Cristobal, suggest that climatic conditions are less important as determinants of dispersal and breeding. Skews in adult sex ratios also fail to account for inter-island variation in sociality. Although they live in a climatically variable environment, territorial behavior and the physical limits of suitable habitat have an overriding influence on cooperative social organization in Galapagos mockingbirds.

Main Author: Curry, Robert L.
Format: Villanova Faculty Authorship
Language: English
Published: 1989
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