The great Indian joint families of free-ranging dogs

Article, Preprint English OPEN
Paul, Manabi ; Bhadra, Anindita (2018)
  • Publisher: Public Library of Science
  • Journal: PLoS ONE, volume 13, issue 5 (eissn: 1932-6203)
  • Related identifiers: pmc: PMC5957358, doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0197328
  • Subject: Fathers | Research Article | Eukaryota | Wolves | Evolutionary Genetics | Population Groupings | Evolutionary Biology | Mothers | Quantitative Biology - Other Quantitative Biology | Animal Types | People and Places | Parenting Behavior | Dogs | Animals | Behavior | Biology and Life Sciences | Animal Behavior | Families | Vertebrates | Amniotes | Pets and Companion Animals | Mammals | Organisms | Zoology | Animal Sexual Behavior

Cooperative breeding is an excellent example of cooperation in social groups. Domestic dogs have evolved from cooperatively hunting and breeding ancestors but have adapted to a facultatively social scavenging lifestyle on streets, and solitary living in human homes. Pets typically breed and reproduce under human supervision, but free-ranging dogs can provide insights into the natural breeding ecology of dogs. We conducted a five year-long field based behavioural study on parental care of free-ranging dogs in India. 23 mother-litter units, belonging to 15 groups were observed, which revealed the presence of widespread allo-parenting by both adult males and females. While all the females were known to be related to the pups receiving care, the relatedness with the males could not be determined. Hence, we coined the term “putative father” for caregiving males. Allomothers provided significantly less care than the mothers, but the putative fathers showed comparable levels of care with the mothers. Mothers invested more effort in nursing and allogrooming, while the putative fathers played and protected more. Our observations provide support for both the “benefit-of-philopatry” and “assured fitness returns” hypotheses. Free-ranging dogs are not cooperative breeders like wolves but are rather communal breeders; their breeding biology bearing interesting similarities with the human joint family system. This breeding strategy is likely to have played an important role in increasing pup survival in a stochastic environment and helping to adapt to living among humans during the domestication of dogs.
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