No task specialization among helpers in Damaraland mole-rats.
The specialization of individuals in specific behavioural tasks is often attributed either to irreversible differences in development, which generate functionally divergent cooperative phenotypes, or to age-related changes in the relative frequency with which individuals perform different cooperative activities; both of which are common in many insect caste systems. However, contrasts in cooperative behaviour can take other forms and, to date, few studies of cooperative behaviour in vertebrates have explored the effects of age, adult phenotype and early development on individual differences in cooperative behaviour in sufficient detail to discriminate between these alternatives. Here, we used multinomial models to quantify the extent of behavioural specialization within nonreproductive Damaraland mole-rats, Fukomys damarensis, at different ages. We showed that, although there were large differences between individuals in their contribution to cooperative activities, there was no evidence of individual specialization in cooperative activities that resembled the differences found in insect societies with distinct castes where individual contributions to different activities are negatively related to each other. Instead, individual differences in helping behaviour appeared to be the result of age-related changes in the extent to which individuals committed to all forms of helping. A similar pattern is observed in cooperatively breeding meerkats, Suricata suricatta, and there is no unequivocal evidence of caste differentiation in any cooperative vertebrate. The multinomial models we employed offer a powerful heuristic tool to explore task specialization and developmental divergence across social taxa and provide an analytical approach that may be useful in exploring the distribution of different forms of helping behaviour in other cooperative species.
European Research Council (294494)