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Bioessays. 2015 Dec;37(12):1303-8. doi: 10.1002/bies.201500120.

How cooperatively breeding birds identify relatives and avoid incest: New insights into dispersal and kin recognition.

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Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, USA.
Santa Fe Institute, Santa Fe, NM, USA.


Cooperative breeding in birds typically occurs when offspring - usually males - delay dispersal from their natal group, remaining with the family to help rear younger kin. Sex-biased dispersal is thought to have evolved in order to reduce the risk of inbreeding, resulting in low relatedness between mates and the loss of indirect fitness benefits for the dispersing sex. In this review, we discuss several recent studies showing that dispersal patterns are more variable than previously thought, often leading to complex genetic structure within cooperative avian societies. These empirical findings accord with recent theoretical models suggesting that sex- biased dispersal is neither necessary, nor always sufficient, to prevent inbreeding. The ability to recognize relatives, primarily by learning individual or group-specific vocalizations, may play a more important role in incest avoidance than currently appreciated.


cooperative breeding; dispersal; incest avoidance; indirect fitness; kin recognition; kin selection

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