Evolutionary ecology meets wildlife management: artificial group augmentation in the re-introduction of endangered African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus)

17 April 2007

As an alternative to kin selection, group augmentation theory provides a framework for evolutionary mechanisms maintaining cooperative breeding when individual fitness is positively related to group size. It is expected that a cooperator group would accept or adopt unrelated foreigners when it is below a critical threshold size and group members could thus benefit from recruiting additional helpers. In re-introduction attempts, this would allow for a group to be augmented artificially before release, which would enhance its chance to establish itself successfully in the release area. This possibility was tested using endangered African wild dogs Lycaon pictus studied in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, South Africa. Here, we report on the first successful artificial integration of an unrelated adult female with her three male pups into an existing pack. In addition, post-release monitoring data are presented, including how a yearling male displaced the dominant male that adopted him as a pup, adding to the controversy over the evolutionary stability of group augmentation as a route to cooperative breeding. This study thus demonstrates how theory from evolutionary ecology can be applied to practical wildlife management, and vice versa.