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Nature. 1992 Dec 10;360(6404):581-3.

Communal nesting patterns in mice implicate MHC genes in kin recognition.

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  • 1Center for Mammalian Genetics, University of Florida, Gainesville 32610.


House mice (Mus musculus domesticus) form communal nests and appear to nurse each other's pups indiscriminately. Communal nesting probably functions to reduce infanticide, but it also makes females vulnerable to exploitation if nursing partners fail to provide their fair share of care. Kinship theory predicts that females will preferentially form communal nests with relatives to minimize exploitation and further increase inclusive fitness. Here we provide evidence from seminatural populations that females prefer communal nesting partners that share allelic forms of major histocompatibility complex genes. Such behaviour would lead to the selection of close relatives as communal nesting partners. Although criteria for the demonstration of kin recognition are currently embroiled in controversy, this is the first vertebrate study to meet Grafen's restrictive requirements: discrimination is based on genetic similarity at highly polymorphic loci, incidental correlations due to relatedness are experimentally controlled, and strong reasons exist for expecting the assayed behaviour to be kin-selected.

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