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Am Nat. 1998 Sep;152(3):380-92. doi: 10.1086/286176.

No evidence for inbreeding avoidance in a natural population of song sparrows (Melospiza melodia).

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  • 1Department of Wildlife Ecology, 1630 Linden Drive, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA.


We studied mate choice and inbreeding avoidance a natural population of song sparrows (Melospiza melodia) on Mandarte Island, Canada. Inbreeding occurred regularly: 59% all matings were between known relatives. We tested for inbreeding avoidance by comparing the observed levels of inbreeding to those expected if mate choice had been random with respect to relatedness. Independent of our assumptions about the availability of mates in the random mating model, we found that the expected and observed distributions of inbreeding coefficients were similar, as was the expected and observed frequency of close (f >/= 0.125) inbreeding. Furthermore, there was no difference in relatedness observed pairs and those that would have resulted had birds mated instead with their nearest neighbors. The only evidence to suggest any inbreeding avoidance was a reduced rate of parent-offspring matings as compared to one random mating model but not the other. Hence, despite substantial inbreeding depression in this population, we found little evidence for inbreeding avoidance through mate choice. We present a simple model to suggest that variation in inbreeding avoidance behaviors in birds may arise from differences in survival rates: in species with low survival rates, the costs of forfeiting matings to avoid inbreeding may exceed the costs of inbreeding.

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