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Genetic basis of cooperative behaviour in a vertebrate model

English title Genetic basis of cooperative behaviour in a vertebrate model
Applicant Taborsky Barbara
Number 137196
Funding scheme ProDoc
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 01.10.2012 - 30.06.2016
Approved amount 263'752.00
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All Disciplines (2)

Discipline
Zoology
Ecology

Keywords (10)

cooperation; heritability; gene expression; microarrays; helping behaviour; gene environment interaction; cooperative breeding; cichlid; quantitative genetics; molecular genetics

Lay Summary (English)

Lead
Lay summary

Cooperation in animals is viewed as a cornerstone of social evolution, characterising transitions from solitary to social life or from simple social organisation to complex social structure. Most research on cooperative behaviour during the past decades has focussed on understanding its adaptive function in the context of kin selection and ecology. In contrast, the genetic basis of cooperative behaviour, and thus the potential of these behaviours to evolve as result of natural selection, has been largely neglected in most organisms studied to date, with the exception of microbes and a small number of eusocial insects. This project aims to reduce the notable gap of genetic studies on cooperation in vertebrates. We aim to provide an empirical foundation of basic genetic mechanisms involved in the expression of cooperative behaviour by studying its inheritance and genetic correlations between cooperative behaviour and other behavioural traits and by identifying the genes and brain regions involved in the expression of cooperative behaviour. The study species, the highly social cichlid Neolamprologus pulcher, lives in large groups where all group members help to raise the offspring of dominants employing a size-based division of labour. There is a wealth of behavioural and ecological information on the adaptive function of helping, as these fish proved to be well suited for experiments both in the lab and in the field, including large scale breeding experiments, physiological manipulations and gene expression studies involving microarrays and single gene approaches. In this project, we shall pursue a dual approach to the genetics of helping behaviour in these fish. (1) We will study the heritability and possibly interactions between the genome and the environment, where the fish live in by large scale breeding experiments. (2) By a molecular genetics approach we aim to understand the neuronal and molecular pathways involved in the expression of helping behaviour.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
Opening the black box of developmental experiments: Behavioural mechanisms underlying long-term effects of early social experience
Taborsky B. (2016), Opening the black box of developmental experiments: Behavioural mechanisms underlying long-term effects of early social experience, in Ethology, x(x), x-x.
Territorial aggression reduces vigilance but increases aggression towards predators in a cooperatively breeding fish
Hess S., Fischer S., Taborsky B. (2016), Territorial aggression reduces vigilance but increases aggression towards predators in a cooperatively breeding fish, in Animal Behaviour, x(x), x-x.
Evolution of genetic and physiological mechanisms of cooperative behaviour
Taborsky Michael, Taborsky Barbara (2015), Evolution of genetic and physiological mechanisms of cooperative behaviour, in Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 6, 132-138.
Evolution of genetic and physiological mechanisms of cooperative behaviour
Taborsky Michael, Taborsky Barbara (2015), Evolution of genetic and physiological mechanisms of cooperative behaviour, in Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 6, 132-138.
Introducing biological realism into the study of developmental plasticity in behaviour
Groothuis T, Taborsky B (2015), Introducing biological realism into the study of developmental plasticity in behaviour, in Frontiers in Zoology, x(x), x-x.
Rearing group size determines social competence and brain structure in a cooperatively breeding cichlid
Fischer Stefan, Bessert-Nettelbeck M, Kotrschal A, Taborsky B (2015), Rearing group size determines social competence and brain structure in a cooperatively breeding cichlid, in American Naturalist, x(x), x-x.
"Prudent habitat choice': a novel mechanism of size-assortative mating
Taborsky B., Guyer L., Demus P. (2014), "Prudent habitat choice': a novel mechanism of size-assortative mating, in JOURNAL OF EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY, 27(6), 1217-1228.
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. (2014), 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 (2014), 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.
Developmental plasticity of growth and digestive efficiency in dependence of early-life food availability
Kotrschal Alexander, Szidat Soenke, Taborsky Barbara (2014), Developmental plasticity of growth and digestive efficiency in dependence of early-life food availability, in FUNCTIONAL ECOLOGY, 28(4), 878-885.
Group-size-dependent punishment of idle subordinates in a cooperative breeder where helpers pay to stay
Fischer Stefan, Zoettl 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.
Rearing-group size determines social competence and brain structure in a cooperatively breeding cichlid
Fischer Stefan, Bessert-Nettelbeck Mathilde, Kotrschal Alexander, Taborsky Barbara (2014), Rearing-group size determines social competence and brain structure in a cooperatively breeding cichlid, in American Naturalist, 186(1), 123-140.
Size-assortative mating in the absence of mate choice
Taborsky B., Guyer L, Demus P (2014), Size-assortative mating in the absence of mate choice, in J. Evol. Biol., x(x), x-x.
Social competence vs responsiveness: similar but not same. A reply to Wolf and McNamara
Taborsky Barbara, Oliveira Rui F. (2013), Social competence vs responsiveness: similar but not same. A reply to Wolf and McNamara, in TRENDS IN ECOLOGY & 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, van Doorn G. Sander, Dieckmann Ulf, Taborsky Barbara (2013), The Evolution of Age-Dependent Plasticity, in AMERICAN NATURALIST, 183(1), 108-125.
Size-Dependent Mortality And Competition Interactively Shape Community Diversity
Taborsky Barbara, Heino Mikko P., Dieckmann Ulf (2012), Size-Dependent Mortality And Competition Interactively Shape Community Diversity, in Evolution, 66(11), 3534-3544.
Social competence: An evolutionary approach
Taborsky Barbara, Oliveira Rui Filipe (2012), Social competence: An evolutionary approach, in Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 27(12), 679-688.

Collaboration

Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
University of Zurich Switzerland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication

Scientific events



Self-organised

Title Date Place
Genetics and development of cooperation 24.02.2016 Münsingene, Switzerland

Knowledge transfer events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Date Place Persons involved
8x8' Junge Forschende erzählen Talk 30.08.2016 Bern, Switzerland Kasper-Völkl Claudia;


Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
156881 Integration of ontogenetic environmental information within and across generations in a cooperative breeder 01.04.2015 Project funding

Abstract

Cooperation has been viewed as a cornerstone of social evolution, characterising transitions from solitary to social life or from simple social organisation to complex social structure. Thus studying the potential of cooperative behaviour to evolve can help to unravel the mechanisms of social evolution. Most research on cooperative behaviour during the past decades has focussed on understanding its adaptive function, e.g. in the context of kin selection or considering significant ecological conditions. In contrast, the genetic basis of cooperative behaviour, and thus the potential of these behaviours to evolve as result of natural selection, has been largely neglected in most organisms studied to date, with the exception of microbes and a small number of eusocial insects. This project aims to reduce the notable gap of genetic studies on cooperation in vertebrates. The complete and detailed understanding of the genetic architecture of a complex behaviour is impossible to achieve within the time horizon of 3 years. Therefore, we aim here to provide an empirical foundation of basic genetic mechanisms involved in the expression of cooperative behaviour by studying its inheritance and genetic correlations, by identifying the genes and brain regions involved in the expression of cooperative behaviour, and by evaluating the possible interactions between the environment and different genotypes shaping phenotypic and genomic reaction norms. The chosen study species, the highly social cichlid Neolamprologus pulcher, lives in large groups where all group members help to raise the offspring of dominants employing a size-based division of labour. There is a wealth of behavioural and ecological information on the adaptive function of helping, as these fish proved to be well suited for experiments both in the lab and in the field, including large scale breeding experiments, physiological manipulations and gene expression studies involving microarrays and single gene approaches. In this project, we shall pursue a dual approach to the genetics of helping behaviour in these fish, which will be conducted by two PhD students. (1) In a quantitative genetics study, we shall perform a large scale breeding experiment to investigate three questions: (i) What is the heritability of the propensity of individuals to help in alloparental brood care? (ii) Which other behavioural or physiological traits are genetically correlated to helping propensity? (iii) How does environmental need for help, which will be experimentally altered by varying predations risk for eggs and larvae, shape the phenotypic helping reaction norms, and do reaction norms differ between genotypes (genotype-by-environment interaction)? (2) By a molecular genetics approach we aim to understand the neuronal and molecular pathways involved in the expression of helping behaviour. We shall compare gene expression patterns between individuals with high and low helping propensity, respectively, and within these two groups we shall measure how gene expression changes when individuals are actually performing helping behaviour. By combining microarray experiments and quantitative single gene expression studies we shall ask: (i) Which genes, belonging to which neuroendocrine pathways, are involved in the control of helping behaviour? (ii) Do genomic reaction norms differ between fish with high and low helping propensity? (iii) Are candidate genes expressed differentially across brain regions relevant for social behaviour? (iv) Are the candidate genes causal for helping behaviour? As many brain regions in fish can be directly mapped on the mammalian brain, the relevant brain regions and pathways responsible for social behaviour have evolved within conserved neural mechanisms across taxonomic groups, and the role of involved neuropeptides and hormones hypothesised to regulate human cooperation have direct homologues in fish. As they are also expressed similarly in homologous brain tissues, we are confident that our findings will be relevant beyond fish and that they can provide insights in the genetic basis of cooperative behaviour in vertebrates in general.
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