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Biol Lett. Jun 23, 2010; 6(3): 301–303.
Published online Dec 9, 2009. doi:  10.1098/rsbl.2009.0732
PMCID: PMC2880034
The effects of familiarity and social hierarchy on group membership decisions in a social fish
Lyndon A. Jordan,1* Marian Y. L. Wong,2 and Sigal S. Balshine2
1Evolution & Ecology Research Centre, University of NSW, Australia
2Department of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour, McMaster University, Ontario, Canada
*Author for correspondence (lyndonjordan/at/
Received September 6, 2009; Accepted November 17, 2009.
Members of animal groups face a trade-off between the benefits of remaining with a familiar group and the potential benefits of dispersing into a new group. Here, we examined the group membership decisions of Neolamprologus pulcher, a group-living cichlid. We found that subordinate helpers showed a preference for joining familiar groups, but when choosing between two unfamiliar groups, helpers did not preferentially join groups that maximized their social rank. Rather, helpers preferred groups containing larger, more dominant individuals, despite receiving significantly more aggression within these groups, possibly owing to increased protection from predation in such groups. These results suggest a complex decision process in N. pulcher when choosing among groups, dependent not only on familiarity but also on the social and life-history consequences of joining new groups.
Keywords: group membership, familiarity, social hierarchy, Neolamprologus pulcher
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