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Journal Article

Benefits of family reunions: Social support in secondary greylag goose families

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Scheiber, I. B. R., Kotrschal, K., & Weiß, B. M. (2009). Benefits of family reunions: Social support in secondary greylag goose families. Hormones and Behavior, 55(1), 133-138. doi:10.1016/j.yhbeh.2008.09.006.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-002C-1293-7
Social interactions are among the most potent stressors. However, social allies may diminish stress, increase success in agonistic encounters and ease access to resources. We studied the role of social support as a major mechanism for individual stress management in families of free-ranging greylag geese (Anser anser). Greylag geese are long-term monogamous, live in a female-bonded social system, and fledged offspring stay with their parents until the next breeding season (‘primary families’). Should parents then fail to fledge young, subadults might rejoin them in summer after molt is completed (‘secondary families’). We have previously shown that primary greylag goose families reap benefits from active social support in agonistic encounters, and also excrete lower levels of immuno-reactive corticosterone metabolites (CORT, ‘passive social support’). Here we investigated how far active and passive social support continues in secondary goose families. Although we found that active support in agonistic encounters was almost absent in secondary families, subadult male geese won an increased number of agonistic encounters due to the mere presence of their secondary family. Particularly adult and subadult females benefited from passive social support through decreased CORT, whereas males did not. Decrease in the hormonal stress response during challenging situations, induced by social allies, may help the females' long-term energy management, thereby improving the odds for successful future reproduction. We discuss whether joining a secondary family may be an alternative tactic for young geese towards optimizing their start into a complex social life.