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Proc Biol Sci. 2004 May 7;271 Suppl 4:S252-4.

Territory inheritance in clownfish.

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Cornell University, Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, Seelev G. Mudd Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA.


Animal societies composed of breeders and non-breeders present a challenge to evolutionary theory because it is not immediately apparent how natural selection can preserve the genes that underlie non-breeding strategies. The clownfish Amphiprion percula forms groups composed of a breeding pair and 0-4 non-breeders. Non-breeders gain neither present direct, nor present indirect benefits from the association. To determine whether non-breeders obtain future direct benefits, I investigated the pattern of territory inheritance. I show that non-breeders stand to inherit the territory within which they reside. Moreover, they form a perfect queue for breeding positions; a queue from which nobody disperses and within which nobody contests. I suggest that queuing might be favoured by selection because it confers a higher probability of attaining breeding status than either dispersing or contesting. This study illustrates that, within animal societies, individuals may tolerate non-breeding positions solely because of their potential to realize benefits in the future.

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