Most studies of cooperatively breeding species have revealed that indirect fitness gains from helping are lower than benefits gained from direct reproduction. Exceptions to this “best of a bad job” strategy are rare. Brown Jays (Cyanocorax morio) in Monteverde, Costa Rica, live in large groups (mean = 10 individuals) and have never been observed to breed as unaided pairs. Helpers provide a substantial percentage (70%) of all nestling feedings. Together, these observations suggest that helping may be crucial for reproductive success in this population. We used multivariate models to examine the effect of helpers on offspring production using a long-term data set. Data on nest-site success and brood reduction suggested that predation was the major cause of nesting failure. Nesting in an isolated tree was the major determinant of successful nestling production, and our data indicate that small groups (less than 9 individuals) may not be able to acquire or defend territories that contain suitable nesting sites. The number of juveniles (young surviving 30 days after leaving the nest) and yearlings was positively related to group size, even after removing groups that nested only in non-isolated trees. Small groups were also more likely than large groups to have total reproductive failure in a season. Helpers may increase juvenile survival by reducing predation, increasing juvenile condition, or providing learning opportunities for foraging and antipredator behaviors. Helpers on their natal territories receive some indirect benefits, though these are low compared with independent breeding. Immigrant male helpers may benefit primarily by gaining future breeding opportunities. Delayed benefits related to territory inheritance and dispersal coalitions may be the best explanation for helping in this population.
Efectos de los Ayudantes sobre la Producción de Progenie en Cyanocorax morio, una Especie con Cría Cooperativa