Aurélie Cohas - 11 Apr 2018

Aurélie Cohas, Université Claude Bernard Lyon, France.

"Sociality in the face of climate change: insights from the cooperatively breeding Alpine marmot"


Among living organisms, individuals of a same species frequently interact and form more or less complex social groups. In some of these social groups collective actions emerge from cooperation between individuals. In cooperatively breeding societies, some individuals even forgo their own reproduction and cooperate to raise offspring of others. Commonly encountered in insects, birds and mammals but also in such simple species as Amoebas, cooperative breeding poses important challenges to the theory of evolution by natural selection (Darwin 1859).  Kin selection theory proposes a very seducing explanation to solve this paradox. If kinship set the stage for cooperative breeding, kinship solely is undoubtedly insufficient to explain the wide variability in cooperative breeding found among species, much less individual differences in reproductive strategies within a species. Environment advocated as one crucial determinant of the benefits and costs of the two alternative strategies that are stay to help or disperse to breed independently are likely to be the missing piece in our understanding of the evolution of cooperative breeding. Using the Alpine marmots as a model species, I will show  that individual characteristics and environmental factors can deeply impact the proximate and ultimate cost/benefit ratio of the individual strategies that are helping or breeding itself.


My main research activity seeks to understand the evolution of mating system and of sociality. I work at the interface between behavioral ecology, evolutionary biology, population genetic and population dynamic. For this, I combine intra-specific approaches, within the framework of a long-term monitoring program on the alpine marmot that I run, and inter-specific approaches on mammals mainly.

 I currently teach at the Laboratory of Biometry and Evolutionary Biology (UMR CNRS 5558), Université Claude Bernard-Lyon in the research topics: Evolution of mating systems, Evolution of sociality, and Climate change.