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Nature. 1996 Apr 18;380(6575):619-21.

A dispersive morph in the naked mole-rat.

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Department of Zoology, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch, South Africa.


Close inbreeding is known for a variety of small mammal species for which a high probability of mortality during dispersal makes helping and delayed maturation a relatively secure fitness option. Prolonged inbreeding, however, is usually associated with lowered fitness, and it has been shown that most highly inbred small mammals and social insects have inbreeding-avoidance mechanisms that promote some degree of outbreeding. However, previous field and laboratory research on the naked mole-rat (Heterocephalus glaber) suggested that this cooperatively breeding rodent is highly inbred, with new colonies forming by fission. Here we report the discovery of a dispersal phenotype that may occasionally promote outbreeding in naked mole-rats. These dispersers are morphologically, physiologically and behaviourally distinct from other colony members. They are laden with fat, exhibit elevated levels of luteinizing hormone, have a strong urge to disperse, and only solicit matings with non-colony members. These findings suggest that, although rare, a dispersive morph exists within naked mole-rat colonies.

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