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No evidence for punishment in communally nursing female house mice (Mus musculus domesticus)


Ferrari, Manuela; König, Barbara (2017). No evidence for punishment in communally nursing female house mice (Mus musculus domesticus). PLoS ONE, 12(6):e0179683.

Abstract

Punishment is claimed as an important mechanism to stabilise costly cooperation in humans, but its importance in social animals has been questioned recently due to both conceptual considerations and a lack of empirical evidence (only few published studies). We empirically tested whether there is evidence for punishment in communally nursing house mice (Mus musculus domesticus, direct descendants of “wild” animals). Communally breeding females pool their litters and raise all offspring together, indiscriminately caring for own and other offspring. Such a situation resembles a public good and provides scope for exploitation if females vary in their relative contributions to the joint nest (offspring number). We allowed two females to communally breed and conducted removal experiments both in the presence and absence of pups. We aimed to test whether reduced investment by one of the females (induced through separation from the partner and their combined offspring for 4 or 12 hours) leads to increased aggression by the other female after the reunion. We found no evidence for punishment, on the contrary, females increased socio-positive behaviours. The costs of losing a partner in a communally breeding species might be too high and hinder the evolution of punishment. Our findings add to a growing list of examples questioning the role of punishment in cooperating non-human animals and emphasise the importance of empirical testing of its assumptions and predictions.

Abstract

Punishment is claimed as an important mechanism to stabilise costly cooperation in humans, but its importance in social animals has been questioned recently due to both conceptual considerations and a lack of empirical evidence (only few published studies). We empirically tested whether there is evidence for punishment in communally nursing house mice (Mus musculus domesticus, direct descendants of “wild” animals). Communally breeding females pool their litters and raise all offspring together, indiscriminately caring for own and other offspring. Such a situation resembles a public good and provides scope for exploitation if females vary in their relative contributions to the joint nest (offspring number). We allowed two females to communally breed and conducted removal experiments both in the presence and absence of pups. We aimed to test whether reduced investment by one of the females (induced through separation from the partner and their combined offspring for 4 or 12 hours) leads to increased aggression by the other female after the reunion. We found no evidence for punishment, on the contrary, females increased socio-positive behaviours. The costs of losing a partner in a communally breeding species might be too high and hinder the evolution of punishment. Our findings add to a growing list of examples questioning the role of punishment in cooperating non-human animals and emphasise the importance of empirical testing of its assumptions and predictions.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies
Dewey Decimal Classification:570 Life sciences; biology
590 Animals (Zoology)
Language:English
Date:2017
Deposited On:11 Aug 2017 13:09
Last Modified:19 Feb 2018 08:22
Publisher:Public Library of Science (PLoS)
ISSN:1932-6203
OA Status:Gold
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0179683

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