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Proc Biol Sci. 2010 Apr 7;277(1684):989-94. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2009.1960. Epub 2009 Nov 25.

Kin selection in Columbian ground squirrels (Urocitellus columbianus): littermate kin provide individual fitness benefits.

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Département d'Ecologie, Physiologie et Ethologie, IPHC, UMR 7178 CNRS, 23 rue Becquerel, Strasbourg Cedex 02, France.


Since W. D. Hamilton's seminal work on the evolution of sociality, a large body of research has accumulated on how kin selection might explain the evolution of cooperation in many group-living species. Our study examined the evolutionary basis of philopatry and cooperation; specifically, whether individuals benefit from the presence of close kin. We applied an individual fitness approach to a 16-year study of Columbian ground squirrels (Urocitellus columbianus) to investigate potential causal paths by which the presence of kin might act on individual fitness. Our results indicate that individual fitness benefits resulted from associations of philopatric female kin, and support the hypothesis that increased tolerance of proximity of kin is a proximate mechanism for these benefits. The major life-history influence of kin on individual fitness was through improved reproductive success, and this benefit may have been owing to philopatric settlement of kin that were recognized through familiarization in the natal burrow. Thus, we demonstrated an evolutionary basis necessary for ongoing kin-selected cooperation in Columbian ground squirrels, though the mechanism of familiarity may determine which kin individuals benefit from cooperative behaviours.

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