The neoteny-helper hypothesis: When to expect and when not to expect endocrine mechanisms to regulate allo-parental care?
Family groups with helpers occur in several species of fish, birds and mammals. In such cooperatively breeding species all group members help with raising the offspring, i.e. parents and offspring from previous litters. While the ecological reasons and ultimate consequences of allo-parental care have been studied in detail, we know little about its physiological regulation. We propose three alternative hypotheses for the endocrine regulation of allo-parental care. 1. The neoteny-helper hypothesis predicts that helpers that did not undergo adolescence yet show helping behavior without any endocrine mechanisms activating it, as helping is the default response towards infant stimuli. The endocrine changes during adolescence would then deactivate helping behavior. 2. The parent-helper hypothesis predicts that helpers undergo the same endocrine changes as parents (increased prolactin and corticosterone levels; decreased testosterone in males but increased estrogen in females). We predict that this hypothesis is especially important in post-adolescent helpers. 3. The helper-specific hypothesis predicts that there are specific endocrine mechanisms that only exist in helpers but not in breeders. We review evidence for these three hypotheses in 23 species of fish, birds, and mammals. We found no evidence for the helper-specific hypothesis but for both other hypotheses. As predicted, this depended on whether helpers were pre- or post-adolescent, but information on whether or not helpers underwent adolescence was often missing. Thus, future studies should investigate whether or not helpers have reached sexual maturity, differentiate between pre- and post-adolescent helpers, and study behavioral changes in helping behavior during adolescence. We conclude that the neurobiological circuits in the brain necessary for allo-parental care might often be the default stage in helpers from cooperative breeding species, which might be deactivated by specific endocrine mechanisms during adolescence, and then would need reactivation for allo-parental and parental care.
Schradin, C; Vuarin, P; Rimbach, R
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