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Proc Biol Sci. 2000 Apr 22;267(1445):801-6.

Inbreeding avoidance and reproductive skew in a cooperative mammal.

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  • 1Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, UK.


In animal social groups, socially subordinate individuals frequently show low reproductive success or completely fail to breed. This suppression of subordinate reproduction is currently typically attributed to control by dominant individuals. However, subordinates in cooperative groups often lack access to unrelated mates, and an alternative possibility is that their reproduction is limited by inbreeding avoidance. Using the eusocial Damaraland mole-rat Cryptomys damarensis, this paper provides the first experimental evidence, to our knowledge, for this explanation. Subordinate, non-breeding female mole-rats were given access to unrelated mates while remaining in the presence of dominant females, and many became reproductively active soon after unrelated males were introduced. Inbreeding avoidance and the availability of unrelated mates provides a plausible and untested explanation for variation in reproductive skew across animal societies.

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