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The ecology and evolution of human-wildlife cooperation

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  1. Human-wildlife cooperation is a type of mutualism in which a human and a wild, free-living, animal actively coordinate their behaviour to achieve a common beneficial outcome.
  2. While other cooperative human-animal interactions involving captive coercion or artificial selection (including domestication) have received extensive attention, we lack integrated insights into the ecology and evolution of human-wildlife cooperative interactions.
  3. Here, we review and synthesise the function, mechanism, development, and evolution of human-wildlife cooperation.
  4. Active cases involve people cooperating with greater honeyguide birds and with two dolphin species, while historical cases involve wolves and orcas.
  5. In all cases, a food source located by the animal is made available to both species by a tool-using human, coordinated with cues or signals.
  6. The mechanisms mediating the animal behaviours involved are unclear, but they may resemble those underlying intraspecific cooperation and reduced neophobia.
  7. The skills required appear to develop at least partially by social learning in both humans and the animal partners. As a result, distinct behavioural variants have emerged in each type of human-wildlife cooperative interaction in both species, and human-wildlife cooperation is embedded within local human cultures.
  8. We propose multiple potential origins for these unique cooperative interactions, and highlight how shifts to other interaction types threaten their persistence.
  9. Finally, we identify key questions for future research. We advocate an approach that integrates ecological, evolutionary, and anthropological perspectives to advance our understanding of human-wildlife cooperation. In doing so, we will gain new insights into the diversity of our ancestral, current, and future interactions with the natural world.



animal culture, cooperation, dolphins, honeyguides, human-wildlife interaction, mutualism, orcas, social learning, wolves

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People and Nature

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Wiley Open Access
European Research Council (725185)
Natalie Uomini was supported by the Max Planck Society and grant #0271 from the Templeton World Charity Foundation. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Templeton World Charity Foundation. Mauricio Cantor was supported by the Department for the Ecology of Animal Societies, Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior. Fábio Daura-Jorge was supported by CAPES (#88887.374128/2019-00), CNPq (#308867/2019-0).