Allocare is a term that describes the care provided to offspring by non-parents, such as older siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or unrelated individuals. Allocare is common in many animal species, including primates, birds, rodents, and cetaceans. Allocare can have various benefits for both the alloparents and the recipient offspring, such as increasing survival, learning skills, enhancing social bonds, and reducing reproductive costs. However, not all research findings on allocare are consistent or conclusive. In this article, we will explore some of the research findings on allocare and identify which one is not true.
Allocare is driven by kin selection and reciprocation
One of the main hypotheses for why animals provide allocare is that they are motivated by kin selection and reciprocation. Kin selection refers to the idea that individuals can increase their inclusive fitness by helping their relatives who share some of their genes. Reciprocation refers to the idea that individuals can benefit from providing help to others who will return the favor in the future. Both of these mechanisms can explain why allocare is more common among close relatives or stable social partners.
For example, a study on St. Lawrence Estuary belugas found that allocare was more frequent among females who were genetically related or had long-term associations with each other. The researchers suggested that allocare in belugas may be driven by kin selection and reciprocation, as alloparents may gain indirect fitness benefits by helping their kin or direct fitness benefits by receiving care from their partners in return.
Another hypothesis for why animals provide allocare is that they are enhancing the fitness of the recipient offspring by providing them with protective, energetic, and social benefits. Protective benefits refer to the idea that alloparents can reduce the predation risk or injury risk of offspring by guarding them, defending them, or distracting predators. Energetic benefits refer to the idea that alloparents can reduce the energetic costs of offspring by feeding them, grooming them, or carrying them. Social benefits refer to the idea that alloparents can improve the social skills of offspring by teaching them, playing with them, or introducing them to other group members.
For example, a study on meerkats found that allocare provided by helpers increased the survival and growth of pups by reducing their exposure to predators and parasites, increasing their food intake and body temperature, and enhancing their foraging and social competence. The researchers suggested that allocare in meerkats may be beneficial for both the helpers and the pups, as helpers may gain direct or indirect fitness benefits by improving the quality of their group members.
Allocare is influenced by herd movement pattern and tidal phase
One of the most surprising findings on allocare is that it is influenced by environmental factors such as herd movement pattern and tidal phase. Herd movement pattern refers to the way a group of animals moves across a landscape, such as nomadic, migratory, or sedentary. Tidal phase refers to the periodic change in sea level caused by the gravitational pull of the moon and the sun, such as high tide or low tide. Both of these factors can affect the availability and distribution of resources, predators, and conspecifics.
For example, a study on St. Lawrence Estuary belugas found that allocare was more frequent when herds were moving slowly or stationary than when they were moving fast. The researchers suggested that allocare in belugas may be influenced by herd movement pattern because slow or stationary herds may offer more opportunities for social interactions and learning among group members. The same study also found that allocare was more frequent during low tide than during high tide. The researchers suggested that allocare in belugas may be influenced by tidal phase because low tide may expose more prey items and reduce predation risk from killer whales.
Which one is not true?
Based on the research findings presented above, which one do you think is not true? If you guessed allocare provides protective, energetic, and social benefits to offspring, you are correct! While this statement may be true for some species that provide allocare, such as meerkats, it is not true for others, such as belugas. In fact, the study on St. Lawrence Estuary belugas found no evidence that allocare was associated with variation in offspring risk, energetic costs, or group sociality. The researchers concluded that allocare in belugas may not provide any direct benefits to recipient offspring but rather serve as a way for alloparents to increase their own fitness through kin selection and reciprocation.
Therefore, we can see that allocare is a complex and diverse phenomenon that varies across species and contexts. Allocare can have different drivers, functions, and consequences for both the alloparents and the recipient offspring. Allocare can also be influenced by environmental factors that affect the behavior and ecology of animals. Allocare is a fascinating topic that deserves more attention and research in the future.