Reproductive correlates of social network variation in plurally breeding degus (Octodon degus)

Tina W. Wey, Joseph R. Burger, Luis A. Ebensperger, Loren D. Hayes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


Studying the causes and reproductive consequences of social variation can provide insight into the evolutionary basis of sociality. Individuals are expected to behave adaptively to maximize reproductive success, but reproductive outcomes can also depend on group structure. Degus (. Octodon degus) are plurally breeding rodents, in which females allonurse indiscriminately. However, communal rearing does not appear to enhance female reproductive success, and larger group sizes are correlated with decreasing per capita pup production. To further investigate mechanisms underlying these patterns, we asked how differences in sex, season and average group reproductive success are related to degu association networks. We hypothesized that if reproductive differences mirror social relationships, then females (core group members) should show stronger and more stable associations than males, and female association strength should be strongest during lactation. We also hypothesized that, at the group level, social cohesion would increase reproductive output, while social conflict would decrease it. Females did have higher association strength and more preferred partners than males, but only during lactation, when overall female associations increased. Females also had more stable preferred social partnerships between seasons. A measure of social cohesion (average association strength) was not related to per capita pup production of female group members, but potential social conflict (heterogeneity of association strengths) was negatively related to per capita pup production of female group members. Our results highlight temporal and multilevel patterns of social structure that may reflect reproductive costs and benefits to females.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1407-1414
Number of pages8
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Project funding was provided by FONDECYT grants 1060499 and 1090302 (to L.A.E.), National Science Foundation grants 0553910 and 0853719 (to L.D.H.), and the Program 1 of Centro de Estudios Avanzados en Ecología and Biodiversidad ( FONDAP 1501–001 ). T.W.W. was funded by a Sigma Xi Grants-in-Aid of Research (GIAR) and a National Science Foundation (NSF) Postdoctoral Fellowship in Biology (DBI-1003282) during manuscript preparation. J.R.B. was funded by the American Society of Mammalogists GIAR, Sigma Xi GIAR, a Tinker Foundation Research Grant awarded by the Latin American and Iberian Institute of the University of New Mexico (UNM) , a Research Project and Travel Grant from the Office of Graduate Studies at UNM , and an National Institututes of Health NIH-PIBBS fellowship ( T32EB009414 ). We give special thanks to the Universidad de Chile, and particularly to Field Station Administrator Marcelo Orellana Reyes, for providing the facilities during field work at Rinconada. We further thank Cecilia León, Juan C. Ramírez, Raúl Sobrero, and numerous students participating in the NSF IRES program for making this work possible.


  • Association strength
  • Degu
  • Fitness
  • Group structure
  • Octodon degus
  • Social conflict
  • Social heterogeneity
  • Social network

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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