Behavioural Ecology

Research topics

Developmental plasticity of social phenotypes

The environmental conditions an individual experiences during early ontogeny may shape the life histories and behaviour of phenotypes irreversibly for the entire life time. Although the importance of early environment effects is increasingly acknowledged by research fields as diverse as human medicine and evolutionary biology, we still do not know much about the possible adaptive value of these effects, nor do we understand the precise physiological and genomic mechanisms mediating early environment effects. Using the Lake Tanganyika cichlids Simochromis pleurospilus and Neolamprologus pulcher as model systems, we investigate how social and ecological components of the early environment influence later life social and ecological competences, physiology, life history strategies and fitness. We investigate by long-term experiments how environmental information on social group compositions and predation risk obtained in different ontogenetic stages is integrated to produce an adapted phenotype. We also explore by quantitative breeding experiments how additive genetic variance, maternal effects and environmental effects contribute to the variance of behavioural phenotypes.

Principal investigator: Barbara Taborsky

Sample publications

Conceptual opinions and reviews:

Taborsky, B. (2021). A positive feedback loop between sociality and social competence. Ethology 127, 774-789.

Taborsky, B. (2017): Developmental plasticity: Preparing for life in a complex world. In:  M. Naguib, J. Podos, L. W. Simmons, L. Barrett, S. Healy, & M. Zuk (Eds.), Advances in the Study of Behavior (pp. 49–99).

Taborsky B. (2016): Opening the black box of developmental experiments: behavioural mechanisms underlying long-term effects of early social experience. Ethology, 267-283.

Groothuis, A.G.G. & Taborsky, B. (2015): Introducing biological realism into the study of developmental plasticity in behaviour. Frontiers in Zoology, 12(Suppl 1), S6.

Taborsky, B. & Oliveria, R.F. (2013): Social competence vs responsiveness: similar but not same. A reply to Wolf and McNamara. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 28, 254-255.

Taborsky, B. & Oliveira, R.F. (2012): Social competence: an evolutionary approach. 'Opinion' article in Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 27, 679-688.


Experimental studies:

Antunes, D. & Taborsky, B. (2020). Early social and ecological experience triggers divergent reproductive investment strategies in a cooperative breeder. Sci. Rep. 10, 10407

Watve, M. & Taborsky, B. (2019): Presence of parents during early rearing affects offspring responses towards predators. Anim. Behav. 158, 239-247

Kasper, C., Schreier, T. & Taborsky B. (2019): Heritabilities, social environment effects and genetic correlations of social behaviours in a cooperatively breeding vertebrate. J Evol Biol. 32, 955-973.

Fischer, S., Bohn, L., Oberhummer, E., Wikström, C. & Taborsky, B. (2017): Divergence of developmental trajectories is triggered interactively by early social and ecological experience in a cooperative breeder. PNAS, 114, E9300-E9307

Kasper, C., Kölliker, M. Postma, E. & Taborsky, B. (2017): Consistent cooperation in a cichlid fish is caused by maternal and developmental effects rather than heritable genetic variation. Proc. Roy. Soc. B, 284, 20170369

Fischer, S., Bessert-Nettelbeck, M., Kotrschal, A & Taborsky, B. (2015): Rearing group size determines social competence and brain structure in a cooperatively breeding cichlid. American Naturalist, 186, 123-140.

Kotrschal, A., Szidat, S. & Taborsky, B. (2014): Developmental plasticity of growth and digestive efficiency in dependence of early-life food availability. Functional Ecology, 28, 878-885.

Taborsky, B., Arnold, C., Junker, J. & Tschopp, A. (2012): The early social environment affects social competence in a cooperative breeder. Animal Behaviour 83, 1067-1074.

Arnold, C. & Taborsky, B. (2010): Social experience in early ontogeny has lasting effects on social skills in cooperatively breeding cichlids. Animal Behaviour 79, 621-630.

Taborsky, B. (2006): The influence of past and present environments on adult life history decisions. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 274, 741-750.

Predator cues experienced during early life have important implications for offspring behaviour
The social environment and predation risk interactively shape two divergent behaviour and life history phenotypes in Neolamprologus pulcher (after Fischer et al. 2017, PNAS)