Project

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Developmental plasticity of social behaviour: fitness effects, molecular and physiological mechanisms

Applicant Taborsky Barbara
Number 133066
Funding scheme Project funding
Research institution Ethologische Station Hasli Institut für Ökologie und Evolution Universität Bern
Institution of higher education University of Berne - BE
Main discipline Zoology
Start/End 01.11.2010 - 31.12.2014
Approved amount 318'749.00
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All Disciplines (2)

Discipline
Zoology
Ecology

Keywords (20)

social behaviour; developmental plasticity; evolutionary ecology; ontogeny; trade-offs; hormones; fish; cichlids; life history; development; behaviour; early environment; socialization; learning, hormones; gene expression; social evolution; cooperative breeding; predation risk; group size; spatial complexity

Lay Summary (English)

Lead
Lay summary
If we want to obtain a comprehensive understanding of the origin of form and function in biology we need to study organisms by an integrative approach combining research on ecological and evolutionary roots of phenotype formation with the study of developmental and genetic mechanisms. Here we study how the environment animals experience early in life shape the social behaviour that we can observe later on in adult animals, which molecular and hormonal mechanisms cause and stabilize these long-term effects, and how these long-term effects of individual histories on behaviour affect their Darwinian fitness. To pursue these aims we shall combine laboratory and field experiments, ecological surveys and evolutionary modelling with the study of the ontogeny of gene expression and the organization of hormonal axes. Our study organism, the highly social cichlid Neolamprologus pulcher, has turned into a model system during the past 10 years for studies of social evolution at many different levels, including population genetics, ecology, life history evolution, behaviour, morphology, gene expression, hormone physiology and energetics. These fish form complex social networks where all aspects of life involve social interactions at various levels. Thus the development of adequate social behaviour allowing these fish to respond quickly and flexibly to a multitude of social challenges they encounter daily is paramount for their survival and reproductive success. In our project we shall expose young N. pulcher experimentally to different levels of social and spatial complexity and varying levels of predation risk during early ontogeny. By a series of behavioural assays when fish will be exposed to different social situations and different learning tasks we shall test how these early exposures affect trade-offs between social competence, learning ability and memory capacity, and predator avoidance skills at different stages throughout life. To obtain lifetime fitness of individuals with known early environment we will monitor natural populations containing individually marked fish over a period of three years. The physiological mechanisms responsible for effects of the early environment on social behaviour and the involved trade-offs will be studied by quantifying the expression of genes that are involved in the control of social behaviour, namely the genes coding for the production of hormones and their receptors, and by non-invasive sampling we shall obtain the levels of the involved hormones circulating in the blood stream.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
Group-size-dependent punishment of idle subordinates in a cooperative breeder where helpers pay to stay
Fischer Stefan, Zöttl Markus, Groenewoud Frank, Taborsky Barbara (2014), Group-size-dependent punishment of idle subordinates in a cooperative breeder where helpers pay to stay, in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 281(1789), 20140184.
Animated images as a tool to study visual communication: A case study in a cooperatively breeding cichlid
Fischer Stefan, Taborsky Barbara, Burlaud Rebecca, Fernandez Ahana Aurora, Hess Sybille, Oberhummer Evelyne, Frommen Joachim G. (2013), Animated images as a tool to study visual communication: A case study in a cooperatively breeding cichlid, in Behaviour, 151(12-13), 1921-1942.
Antipredator defences of young are independently determined by genetic inheritance, maternal effects and own early experience in mouthbrooding cichlids
Stratmann Ariane, Taborsky Barbara (2013), Antipredator defences of young are independently determined by genetic inheritance, maternal effects and own early experience in mouthbrooding cichlids, in Functional Ecology, 28(4), 944-953.
'Prudent habitat choice': A novel mechanism of size-assortative mating
Taborsky Barbara, Guyer Luzia, Demus P. (2013), 'Prudent habitat choice': A novel mechanism of size-assortative mating, in Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 27(6), 1217-1228.
Social competence vs responsiveness: Similar but not same. A reply to Wolf and McNamara
Taborsky Barbara, Oliveira Rui Filipe (2013), Social competence vs responsiveness: Similar but not same. A reply to Wolf and McNamara, in Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 28(5), 254-255.
Stable reprogramming of brain transcription profiles by the early social environment in a cooperatively breeding fish.
Taborsky Barbara, Tschirren Linda, Meunier Clémence, Aubin-Horth Nadia (2013), Stable reprogramming of brain transcription profiles by the early social environment in a cooperatively breeding fish., in Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society, 280(1753), 20122605-20122605.
The evolution of age-dependent plasticity
Fischer Barbara O., Van Doorn Gerrit Sander, Dieckmann Ulf, Taborsky Barbara (2013), The evolution of age-dependent plasticity, in American Naturalist, 183(1), 108-125.
Brood mixing and reduced polyandry in a maternally mouthbrooding cichlid with elevated among-breeder relatedness
Sefc KM, Hermann CM, Taborsky B, Koblmuller S (2012), Brood mixing and reduced polyandry in a maternally mouthbrooding cichlid with elevated among-breeder relatedness, in MOLECULAR ECOLOGY, 21(11), 2805-2815.
Competition level determines compensatory growth abilities
Segers FHID, Taborsky B (2012), Competition level determines compensatory growth abilities, in BEHAVIORAL ECOLOGY, 23(3), 665-671.
Egg size-dependent expression of growth hormone receptor accompanies compensatory growth in fish
Segers FHID, Berishvili G, Taborsky B (2012), Egg size-dependent expression of growth hormone receptor accompanies compensatory growth in fish, in PROCEEDINGS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY B-BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES, 279(1728), 592-600.
Egg size-dependent expression of growth hormone receptor accompanies compensatory growth in fish.
Segers F H I D, Berishvili G, Taborsky B (2012), Egg size-dependent expression of growth hormone receptor accompanies compensatory growth in fish., in Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society, 279(1728), 592-600.
Juvenile exposure to predator cues induces a larger egg size in fish
Segers FHID, Taborsky B (2012), Juvenile exposure to predator cues induces a larger egg size in fish, in PROCEEDINGS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY B-BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES, 279(1731), 1241-1248.
Life-stage specific environments in a cichlid fish: implications for inducible maternal effects
Kotrschal A, Heckel G, Bonfils D, Taborsky B (2012), Life-stage specific environments in a cichlid fish: implications for inducible maternal effects, in EVOLUTIONARY ECOLOGY, 26(1), 123-137.
SIZE-DEPENDENT MORTALITY AND COMPETITION INTERACTIVELY SHAPE COMMUNITY DIVERSITY
Taborsky B, Heino M, Dieckmann U (2012), SIZE-DEPENDENT MORTALITY AND COMPETITION INTERACTIVELY SHAPE COMMUNITY DIVERSITY, in EVOLUTION, 66(11), 3534-3544.
Size-dependent mortality and competition interactively shape community diversity.
Taborsky Barbara, Heino Mikko, Dieckmann Ulf (2012), Size-dependent mortality and competition interactively shape community diversity., in Evolution; international journal of organic evolution, 66(11), 3534-44.
Social competence: an evolutionary approach.
Taborsky Barbara, Oliveira Rui F (2012), Social competence: an evolutionary approach., in Trends in ecology & evolution, 27(12), 679-88.
The early social environment affects social competence in a cooperative breeder
Taborsky B, Arnold C, Junker J, Tschopp A (2012), The early social environment affects social competence in a cooperative breeder, in ANIMAL BEHAVIOUR, 83(4), 1067-1074.
A Noninvasive Method to Determine Fat Content in Small Fish Based on Swim Bladder Size Estimation
Kotrschal A, Fischer B, Taborsky B (2011), A Noninvasive Method to Determine Fat Content in Small Fish Based on Swim Bladder Size Estimation, in JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL ZOOLOGY PART A-ECOLOGICAL GENETICS AND PHYSIOLOGY, 315A(7), 408-415.
Do Maternal Food Deprivation and Offspring Predator Cues Interactively Affect Maternal Effort in Fish?
Segers FHID, Gerber B, Taborsky B (2011), Do Maternal Food Deprivation and Offspring Predator Cues Interactively Affect Maternal Effort in Fish?, in ETHOLOGY, 117(8), 708-721.
Egg size and food abundance interactively affect juvenile growth and behaviour
Segers FHID, Taborsky B (2011), Egg size and food abundance interactively affect juvenile growth and behaviour, in FUNCTIONAL ECOLOGY, 25(1), 166-176.
How to balance the offspring quality-quantity tradeoff when environmental cues are unreliable
Fischer B, Taborsky B, Kokko H (2011), How to balance the offspring quality-quantity tradeoff when environmental cues are unreliable, in OIKOS, 120(2), 258-270.
WHEN TO STORE ENERGY IN A STOCHASTIC ENVIRONMENT
Fischer B, Dieckmann U, Taborsky B (2011), WHEN TO STORE ENERGY IN A STOCHASTIC ENVIRONMENT, in EVOLUTION, 65(5), 1221-1232.
Social experience in early ontogeny has lasting effects on social skills in cooperatively breeding cichlids
Arnold Cornelia, Taborsky Barbara (2010), Social experience in early ontogeny has lasting effects on social skills in cooperatively breeding cichlids, in Animal Behaviour, 79(3), 621-630.

Collaboration

Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
Universite Laval Canada (North America)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
- Research Infrastructure
- Exchange of personnel
University of Graz Austria (Europe)
- Publication
ISPA Lisbon Portugal (Europe)
- Publication

Scientific events



Self-organised

Title Date Place
The Evolution of Proximate Mechanisms for Behavioural and Life History Decisions 11.08.2013 Arolla, Switzerland

Communication with the public

Communication Title Media Place Year
Media relations: print media, online media Feines Feedback vom Fisch Der Standard International 2013
New media (web, blogs, podcasts, news feeds etc.) Mit der Sozialkompetenz eines Fisches uniaktell German-speaking Switzerland 2012

Awards

Title Year
Fakultätspreis für beste Dissertation im Fach Biologie 2015

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
111796 The influence of past and present ecology on reproductive strategies and life history trade-offs 01.08.2006 Project funding
137108 Proximate and ultimate causes of Cooperation 01.05.2012 ProDoc
156881 Integration of ontogenetic environmental information within and across generations in a cooperative breeder 01.04.2015 Project funding
157884 Supercritical fluid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry as a new analytical tool for plant sciences 01.06.2015 R'EQUIP

Abstract

There is increasing awareness that a comprehensive understanding of form and function in biology needs an integrative approach combining research on ecological and evolutionary roots of phenotype formation with the study of developmental and genetic mechanisms. This project aims to study developmental plasticity of social behaviour pursuing three major aims: (i) to identify phenotypic effects of early environment on social behaviour and their fitness benefits and associated trade-offs in the ecological context; (ii) to expand the study of the evolutionary ecology of social plasticity with research on underlying molecular and endocrine mechanisms.; and (iii) to investigate how animals integrate multiple environmental input by means of a plastic response. To pursue these aims I shall combine laboratory and field experiments, ecological surveys and evolutionary modelling with the study of the ontogeny of gene expression and the organization of hormonal axes. My study organism will be the highly social cichlid Neolamprologus pulcher, which has turned into a model system for studies of social evolution at many different levels, including population genetics, ecology, life history evolution, behaviour, morphology, gene expression, hormone physiology and energetics. These fish form complex social networks where all aspects of life involve social interactions at various levels. Together with a solid knowledge base of the biology of this species and its outstanding methodological suitability, this model system provides exceptional opportunities to investigate the fitness related aspects of social development that are the objective of this study. Three major approaches will be used to achieve the aims outlined above. (1) Young N. pulcher will be experimentally exposed to different levels of social and spatial complexity and varying levels of predation risk during early ontogeny. I shall investigate resulting phenotypic responses, in particular predicted trade-offs between social competence, learning ability and memory capacity, and risk avoidance skills at different stages throughout life. Moreover, I shall apply behavioural essays and measure fitness in terms of survival chances, reproductive performance and dispersal success. In the field, lifetime fitness of individually marked fish will be compared between individuals from social groups of low and high complexity (small and large families). (2) To unravel the physiological mechanisms responsible for effects of the early environment on social behaviour and the involved trade-offs we shall study gene expression during the course of plastic development (collaboration with N. Aubin-Horth, Quebec Univ.). We shall take serial samples of young from the treatment groups created by environmental manipulations as outlined in (1). By time series sampling during early life stages we shall be able to distinguish causes from effects of behavioural variation. Sampling later in life allows to check for the long-term persistence of gene expression differences. We shall measure circulating cortisol levels, determine the expression levels of corticoid receptors in whole brains by qRTPCR and compare expression levels between treatment groups in different brain regions by in situ hybridization. One of the most important epigenetic mechanisms during development is methylation or demethylation of DNA as it can silence or activate genes, respectively. As this mechanism may cause persistent, plastic changes in social behaviour, we aim to detect differential methylation patterns in the brain in response to early social environment. (3) To investigate the integration of multiple environmental cues young N. pulcher will receive information on the safety of the environment either (a) by maternal signals through yolk corticosteroid levels, or (b) from their own, post-natal experience. By the experimental treatment these cues will be either congruent or conflicting. I shall test for synergistic and antagonistic effects of the two cues, and whether young prioritize maternal signals or information accrued by own sampling. Individual-based simulations will be employed to find simple decision rules that can be used by animals to solve a complex problem: to show an optimal degree of plasticity of traits in fluctuating environments across all ages.
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