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J Evol Biol. 2008 Jan;21(1):256-62. Epub 2007 Nov 15.

Barn swallow chicks beg more loudly when broodmates are unrelated.

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Dipartimento di Biologia, Università degli Studi di Milano, Milano, Italy.


Parents of a variety of animal species distribute critical resources among their offspring according to the intensity of begging displays. Kin selection theory predicts that offspring behave more selfishly in monopolizing parental care as relatedness with competitors declines. We cross-fostered two eggs between barn swallow (Hirundo rustica) clutches and compared the loudness of begging between mixed and control broods under normal feeding conditions and after a period of food deprivation. Begging loudness was higher in mixed broods under normal but not poor feeding conditions. Survival was reduced in mixed than control broods. Call features varied according to parentage, possibly serving as a cue for self-referent phenotype matching in mixed broods. This is the first evidence within a vertebrate species that competitive behaviour among broodmates depends on their relatedness. Thus, kin recognition and relatedness may be important determinants of communication among family members, care allocation and offspring viability in barn swallows.

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