Social bonds amongst male dolphins are more important than strength or agein reproductive success, a new study has shown.

The study, led by researchers at the University of Zurich, identified thatwell-integrated “popular” males with strong social bonds to many alliancepartners produce the most offspring.

Examining male dolphins in Shark Bay, Western Australia, the research foundthat male dolphins live in complex social groups in which they form long-lasting bonds to cooperate with other males. To do this, they join in large,stable alliances. Within these alliances, males form smaller, less stablegroups of two to three to mate with females, steal them from other alliancesor defend against attacks.

Livia Gerber, a former PhD student at the Department of Anthropology of theUniversity of Zurich, said this kind of male cooperation for the purpose ofreproduction is highly unusual in the animal kingdom and has only beenobserved in a much less complex form in some other primates.

“Well-integrated males might be in a better position to harness the benefitsof cooperation and access crucial resources such as food or mates. They mayalso be more resilient to partner loss compared to those with few, but closerpartners.”

The researchers analysed 30 years of behavioural data from 85 male dolphinsand used genetic data to conduct paternity analysis for over 400 dolphins.

Tagged: dolphins

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