Helping your parents to help yourself

Helping your parents to help yourself

Evolution of Cooperative Breeding in Florida Scrub-Jays

Young scrub-jays often spend the first several years of their lives as “helpers” at their family group. They help their parents raise offspring and defend the territory. How did this behavior evolve? Why help when you can reproduce on your own? We use our long-term nesting and dispersal data, and ongoing behavioral ecology experiments to understand how cooperation evolves in social animals with scrub-jays as a model system.

Major Findings & Impact

The study of cooperative breeding in Florida Scrub-Jays is a well-known model system in the evolution of cooperative breeding and features in several Behavioral Ecology textbooks. It is one of the few systems where helpers confer a clear pattern of fitness advantage for breeders.

Project Details

More about this project

Data and Analysis Types

Monthly censuses for groups, group composition, parentage and pedigree for over 6000 individuals, annual territory sizes during breeding season

Primary Location(s)

Archbold Biological Station

Years Active


Helping your parents to help yourself

Featured Publications

" The Florida scrub-jay is a singular-nesting species in which pre-breeding off spring typically remain in the natal territory for a minimum of one year, living as a cooperative family group with their parents or stepparents. These features make the Florida scrub-jay “blessedly simple” as a model species exhibiting an early stage along what we presume to be an evolutionary track toward more complex cooperative-breeding social systems"

Funders & Collaborators
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
National Science Foundation