Universität Bern


The smell of hunger: Norway rats provision social partners based on odour cues of need
K. Schneeberger & M. Taborsky



Sensory ecology and cognition in social decisions
Special feature edited by K. Schneeberger & M. Taborsky




SCIENCE ADVANCES Alternative male morphs solve sperm performance/longevity trade-off in opposite directions M. Taborsky, D. Schütz, O. Goffinet & G.S.van Doorn


Media release, University of Bern


Reciprocal trading of different commodities in Norway rats. M.K. Schweinfurth & M. Taborsky

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Nature research highlight
Current Biology dispatch

PNAS - Divergence of developmental trajectories is triggered interactively by early social and ecological experience in a cooperative breeder. Fischer, Bohn, Oberhummer, Nyman & B. Taborsky
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commentary on Fischer et al

PNAS - Predation risk drives social complexity in cooperative breeders. Groenewoud, Frommen, Josi, Tanaka, Jungwirth & Taborsky
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The evolution of cooperation based on direct fitness benefits. Phil Trans theme issue compiled and edited by Taborsky M., Frommen JG & Riehl C. (2016)
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NATURE COMMUNICATIONS Kinship reduces alloparental care in cooperative cichlids where helpers pay-to-stay
Zoettl M., Heg D., Chervet N. & Taborsky M. (2013)

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Social competence: an evolutionary approach
Taborsky, B. & Oliveira, R.F.
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Larval helpers and age polyethism in ambrosia beetles
Biedermann P.H.W. & Taborsky M.
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Animal personality due to social niche specialisation
Bergmueller R. & Taborsky M.
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Environmental Change Enhances Cognitive Abilities in Fish
Kotrschal, A. & Taborsky, B.
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Extended phenotypes as signals
Franziska C. Schaedelin and Michael Taborsky
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On the Origin of Species by Natural and Sexual Selection
G. Sander van Doorn, Pim Edelaar, Franz J. Weissing
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Cambridge University Press
Alternative Reproductive Tactics: An Integrative

Oliveira R., Taborsky M. & Brockmann H.J.
more information

The influence of early environment on adult life history decisions and social behaviour

Project leader: PhD students:
  • Mukta Watve
  • Diogo Antunes
  • OcĂ©ane La Loggia
  • Maria Reyes-Contreras
Master students:

The environmental conditions an individual experiences during early ontogeny may shape the life histories and behaviour of phenotypes irreversibly for the entire life time. Moreover early-environment effects can be transmitted between generations through maternal influences on propagule phenotype. Although the importance of early environment for life history evolution is increasingly acknowledged by the 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 specific interactions of environmental characteristics and the type of effects they produce. Moreover, with few exceptions, we lack information about the precise physiological mechanism induced by the early-environment, and how they are linked to the observed variation of life history strategies of organisms. We aim to understand the evolution of early-environment effects by investigating the function and the underlying mechanisms of such effects using an integrative approach of theoretical modelling, lab experiments, ecological surveys and physiological measurements. The empirical research focuses on African cichlids, which are a suitable model system to study the life history evolution of iteroparous, long-lived vertebrates.

Specifically, we investigate the ecological or social context that favours or disfavours the evolution of early-environment effects on animal life histories and on social behaviour, we test for physiological and neural adaptations in response to early conditions and ask whether and for how long they are reversible, we test for adaptiveness of early-environment effects including maternal effects and we model how phenotypic plasticity of different traits changes over life time.


Photo: Ad Konings

- Nadia Aubin-Horth, University of Montreal, Canada
- Ulf Dieckmann, EEP, IIASA, Austria
- Mikko Heino, Univ. Bergen, Norway, and EEP, IIASA, Austria
- Rui Oliveira, ISPA & Champalimaud Neuroscience Program, Portugal


Maria Reyes-Contreras, Gaétan Glauser, Diana J. Rennison, Barbara Taborsky (2019). Early-life manipulation of cortisol and its receptor alters stress axis programming and social competence. 374: 20180119 Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences [pdf].

Kasper, C., François-Olivier Hébert, F.-O., Aubin-Horth, N. & Taborsky, B. (2018) Divergent brain gene expression profiles between alternative behavioural helper types in a cooperative breeder. Mol. Ecol., 27, 4136-4151. [pdf]

Kasper, C., Aubin-Horth, N. & Taborsky, B. (2018) Brain activation patterns following a cooperation opportunity in a highly social cichlid fish. Physiology & Behavior 195, 37-47. [pdf]

Taborsky, B., Heino, M. & Dieckmann, U. 2018. Life history multistability caused by size-dependent mortality. Amer. Nat. 192, 62-71. [pdf]

Nyman, C., Fischer, S., Aubin-Horth, N. & Taborsky, B. (2018) Evolutionary conserved neural signature of early life stress affects animal social competence. Proc. Roy Soc. B 285, 20172344. [pdf]

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. [pdf]

Bannier, F. Tebbich, S. & Taborsky, B. (2017): Early experience affects learning performance and neophobia in a cooperatively breeding cichlid. Ethology, 123, 712-723. [pdf]

Kasper, C, Vierbuchen, Maddalena, Ernst, U., Fischer, S., Radersma, R., Raulo, A., Cunha Saraiva, F., Wu, M., Mobley, K. Taborsky, B. (2017) Genetics and developmental biology of cooperation. Molecular Ecology, 26, 4364-4377. [pdf]

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

Fischer, S., Oberhummer, E., Cunha Saraiva, F., Gerber, N. & Taborsky, B. (2017) Smell or vision? The use of different sensory modalities in predator discrimination. Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol. 71:143 [pdf]

Nyman, C., Fischer, S., Aubin-Horth, N. & Taborsky, B. (2017): Effect of the early social environment on behavioural and genomic responses to a social challenge in a cooperatively breeding vertebrate. Molecular Ecology, 26, 3186–3203. [pdf]

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.), Adv. Stud. Behav. (pp. 49–99) [pdf]

Taborsky, B. (2016) Opening the black box of developmental experiments: behavioural mechanisms underlying long-term effects of early social experience. Ethology 122:267–283 [pdf]

Hess, S., Fischer, S., Taborsky, B. (2016) Territorial aggression reduces vigilance but increases aggression towards predators in a cooperatively breeding fish. Anim. Behav. 113:229-235 [pdf]

Groothuis, T.G.G., Taborsky, B. (2015) Introducing biological realism into the study of developmental plasticity in behaviour. Front. Zool. 12:S6 [pdf]

Taborsky, M., Taborsky, B. (2015) Evolution of genetic and physiological mechanisms of cooperative behaviour. Curr. Op. Behav. Sci. 6:132–138 [pdf]

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

Stratmann, A. & Taborsky, B. (2014): Antipredator defences of young are independently determined by genetic inheritance, maternal effects and own early experience in mouthbrooding cichlids. Funct. Ecol., 28:944-953 [pdf]

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

Fischer, B., van Doorn, G. S., Dieckmann, U. & Taborsky, B. (2014): The evolution of age-dependent plasticity. Amer. Nat., 183:108-125 [pdf]

Taborsky B., Tschirren L., Meunier C. & Aubin-Horth N. (2013) Stable reprogramming of brain transcription profils by the early social environment in a cooperatively breeding fish. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 280:20122605. doi.10.1098/rspb.2012.2605 [pdf, 481 KB]

Taborsky B. & Oliveira R.F. (2012) Social competence: an evolutionary approach. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 27:679-688. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tree.2012.09.003 [pdf, 668 KB]

Taborsky, B., Heino, M. & Dieckmann, U. (2012): Size-dependent mortality and competition interactively shape community diversity. Evolution 66-11:3524-3544. doi:10.1111/j.1558-5646.2012.01692.x [pdf, 1009 KB]

Segers, F.H.I.D. & Taborsky, B. (2012): Competition level determines compensatory growth abilities. Behavioural Ecology 23, 665-671 . doi:10.1093/beheco/ars013 [pdf, 160 KB]

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. [pdf, 229 KB]

Kotrschal A., Heckel G., Bonfils D. & Taborsky B. (2012): Life-stage-specific environments in a ciclid fish: implications for inducible maternal effects. Evolutionary Ecology 26, 123-137. doi: 10.1007/s10682-011-9495-5 [pdf, 324 KB]

Segers F.H.I.D. & Taborsky B. (2012): Juvenile exposure to predator cues induces a large egg size in fish. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 279, 1241-1248. doi:10.1098/rspb.2011.1290 [pdf, 470 KB]

Segers F.H.I.D., Berishvili G. & Taborsky B. (2012): Egg size-dependent expression of growth hormone receptor accompanies compensatory growth in fish. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 279, 592-600. doi:10.1098/rspb.2011.1104. [pdf, 322 KB]

Kotrschal A., Fischer B. & Taborsky B. (2011): A non-invasive method to determine fat content in small fish with swim bladders. Journal of Experimental Zoology 315: 408-415. [pdf, 210 KB] 

Segers F.H.I.D., Gerber B. & Taborsky B. (2011): Do maternal food deprivation and offspring predator cues interactively affect maternal effort in fish? Ethology 177, 708-721. doi: 10.1111/j.1439-0310.2011.01922.x [pdf, 328 KB]

Fischer B., Taborsky B. & Kokko H. (2011): How to balance the offspring quality-quantity trade-off when environmental cues are unreliable. Oikos 120(2): 258-270. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0706.2010.18642.x [pdf, 804 KB]

Fischer B., Dieckmann U. & Taborsky B. (2011): When to store energy in a stochastic environment. Evolution 65: 1221-1232. [pdf, 357KB]

Segers F.H.I.D. & Taborsky B. (2011): Egg size and food abundance interactively affect juvenile growth and behaviour. Functional Ecology 25: 166-176. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2435.2010.01790.x. [pdf, 389 KB]

Fischer B., Taborsky B. & Kokko H. (2010): How to balance the offspring quality-quantity trade-off when environmental cues are unreliable. Oikos 120(2): 258-270. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0706.2010.18642.x [pdf, 1.03 MB]

Kotrschal A. & Taborsky B. (2010): Resource Defence or Exploded Lek? – A Question of Perspective. Ethology 116: 1189–1198. doi: 10.1111/j.1439-0310.2010.01831.x. [pdf, 268 KB]

Kotrschal A. & Taborsky B. (2010): Environmental change enhances cognitive abilities in fish. PloS Biology 8(4): e1000351. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000351 [pdf, 214 KB]

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 [pdf, 395 KB]

Fischer B., Taborsky B. & Dieckmann U. (2009): Unexpected patterns of plastic energy allocation in stochastic environments. American Naturalist 173, 3: E108-120 [pdf, 2.4 MB]

Taborsky, B. (2006): Mothers determine offspring size in response to own juvenile growth conditions. Biology Letters. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2005.0422. [pdf, 102 KB]

Taborsky, B. (2006): The influence of past and present environments on adult life history decisions. Proceedings of the Royal Society, London, Series B, doi: 10.1098/rspb.205.3347. [pdf, 205 KB]