While competition for limited breeding positions is a common feature of group life, species vary widely in the extent to which reproduction is shared among females (‘reproductive skew’). In recent years, there has been considerable debate over the mechanisms that generate variation in reproductive skew, with most evidence suggesting that subordinates breed when dominants are unable to prevent them from doing so. Here, we suggest that viviparity reduces the ability of dominant females to control subordinate reproduction and that, as a result, dominant female birds are more able than their mammal counterparts to prevent subordinates from breeding. Empirical data support this assertion. This perspective may increase our understanding of how cooperative groups form and are stabilized in nature.
Keywords: reproductive skew, cooperative breeding, dominance, subordinate, animal societies, sociality