Benefits of Helping

Science  28 Sep 2001:
Vol. 293, Issue 5539, pp. 2345d
DOI: 10.1126/science.293.5539.2345d

In cooperative vertebrate societies, some individuals delay or forego reproduction and instead help to provision the offspring of other individuals in the group. Clutton-Brock et al. (p. 2446), adding a new chapter to their long-term studies of meerkats in southern Africa, show that helping benefits not only the helped, but the helpers themselves. The presence of helpers has clear benefits for offspring in terms of growth and survival. This effect is magnified in larger meerkat groups, unlike in mammals where offspring are provisioned by the parents alone. Also, helpers themselves attain (and sustain) greater body mass, showing that helping behavior has mutual benefits.

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