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Cooperation and Social Behaviour

Fishes defending in group
Photo credit: Michael Taborsky

Have you ever wondered why lions live in groups (prides) while leopards or tigers live a more solitary lifestyle? Even within a single species, individuals may vary with respect to how much they want to affiliate and socialize with others and how much they will cooperate with other members of their group. We study this variation among species and between individuals and want to better understand the evolution of social behaviour and to explain the degree of cooperation and conflict observed in social groups.

We use cichlid fish for this work. Cichlid fishes are a family of tropical freshwater fishes. This group is ideal for cross species studies because they not only come in a dazzling array of shapes, colours and sizes, but they also are extremely diverse in their behaviours. Also the extremely rapid speciation that has occurred in this fish family has drummed up a great deal of interest and research effort on these particular fishes. As a consequence, there is excellent knowledge of genetic relationships between species and many molecular tools with which to study these fishes. We know that some cichlid fish live in groups others do not, some species are cooperative and others are not. We want to know why such differences exist. To understand the diversity in behaviour we explore many factors from neurons to neighborhoods that might help us better understand the evolution of complex social behaviour and in particular we investigate these species’ life history, demography, genetics neurobiology and physiology for clues about the selecting agents for complex social behaviour.

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Here are a few representative ABEL papers on this topic:


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