Using a combination of laboratory experiments and underwater field observations in Lake Tanganyika (Zambia), Stiver and Balshine examined how the help provided to breeders varied by how related the helpers were to the breeders. "While some helpers work or care for young because they are related to the dominant breeders, we also observed that other unrelated helpers work as a kind of rent payment," says Stiver.
Like in a commune or a kibbutz where non-relatives work together to achieve a common goal, these helper fish donate their time and energy to the group in exchange for the safety of living within the group. In a sense, these tiny African fish take a larger than usual worldview, and continued studies of co-operation in this species and other animals may shed light on the factors promoting co-operation in our own species.
The paper is available online at www.journals.royalsoc.ac.uk/link.asp?id=4elc7n9j2au5tb95.
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