Indexed on: 25 Jan '17Published on: 25 Jan '17Published in: Nature communications
Biological market theory is potentially useful for understanding helping behaviour in animal societies. It predicts that competition for trading partners will affect the value of commodities exchanged. It has gained empirical support in cooperative breeders, where subordinates help dominant breeders in exchange for group membership, but so far without considering one crucial aspect: outside options. We find support for a biological market in paper wasps, Polistes dominula. We first show that females have a choice of cooperative partners. Second, by manipulating entire subpopulations in the field, we increase the supply of outside options for subordinates, freeing up suitable nesting spots and providing additional nesting partners. We predicted that by intensifying competition for help, our manipulation would force dominants to accept a lower price for group membership. As expected, subordinates reduce their foraging effort following our treatments. We conclude that to accurately predict the amount of help provided, social units cannot be viewed in isolation: the surrounding market must also be considered.