Costs and benefits of social connectivity in juvenile Greylag geese

Scientific Reports


Living in groups has various advantages and disadvantages for group members. We investigated the fitness consequences of early social connectivity (normalized Freeman degrees based on nearest neighbour data), physiology (levels of excreted corticosterone metabolites assayed from droppings), and agonistic interactions in a group of free-ranging greylag geese (Anser anser). Forty-four greylag geese below 3 years of age were observed in three different seasonal phases: during the re-aggregation of the flock in autumn, at the end of the winter and during the forthcoming breeding season. We show that corticosterone metabolite levels and initiated and received aggression increased with increasing social connectivity. Individuals had higher connectivity scores in the winter flock than during the mating and breeding seasons. One-year old juveniles were more connected than 2- and 3-year old individuals. In addition, we examined the link between social connectivity during early development and reproductive success several years later. We found that birds with greater connectivity early in life attempted to breed at a younger age. Furthermore, successful breeders with higher early connectivity scores had higher numbers of fledged goslings. Our results show that social context in early life stages may have long-term effects on individual fitness.

Szipl, G., Depenau, M., Kotrschal, K., Hemetsberger, J., & Frigerio, D. (2019). Costs and benefits of social connectivity in juvenile Greylag geese. Scientific Reports, 9, [12839].