Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 70, Issue 9, pp 1457–1465 | Cite as

No behavioural response to kin competition in a lekking species

  • Christophe LebigreEmail author
  • Catherine Timmermans
  • Carl D. Soulsbury
Original Article


The processes of kin selection and competition may occur simultaneously if limited individual dispersal, i.e. population viscosity, is the only cause of the interactions between kin. Therefore, the net indirect benefits of a specific behaviour may largely depend on the existence of mechanisms dampening the fitness costs of competing with kin. Because of female preference for large aggregations, males in lekking species may gain indirect fitness benefits by displaying with close relatives. At the same time, kin selection may also lead to the evolution of mechanisms that dampen the costs of kin competition. As this mechanism has largely been ignored to date, we used detailed behavioural and genetic data collected in the black grouse Lyrurus tetrix to test whether males mitigate the costs of kin competition through the modulation of their fighting behaviours according to kinship and the avoidance of close relatives when establishing a lek territory. We found that neighbouring males’ fighting behaviour was unrelated to kinship and males did not avoid settling with close relatives on leks. As males’ current and future mating success are strongly related to their behaviour on the lek (including fighting behaviour and territory position), the costs of kin competition may be negligible relative to the direct benefits of successful male-male contests. As we previously showed that the indirect fitness benefits of group membership were very limited in this black grouse population, these behavioural data support the idea that direct fitness benefits gained by successful male-male encounters likely outbalance any indirect fitness benefits.

Significance statement

Kin selection might be involved in the formation of groups because the fitness benefits of increasing group size can be accrued when groups hold close relatives. However, the fitness costs of competing with kin could counter-balance these indirect fitness benefits unless mechanisms enabling individuals to limit kin competition. Here we show in a lekking species that males do not modulate their fight frequency and intensity according to their kinship and do not avoid establishing territories with closely related neighbours. As the indirect fitness benefits of group display were very small in this system and as this study shows that males do not show any sign of kin competition avoidance, the indirect effects associated with male group display are likely to be very small.


Dominance Indirect fitness benefits Kin selection Kin competition Territoriality Sexual selection Sociality 



This paper is dedicated to Prof. Rauno Veli Alatalo who passed away on November 9th 2012. We thank Jefferson Graves, Matti Kervinen and two anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments on previous versions of this manuscript. We are grateful to Elina Virtanen, Juho Niva, Anssi Lipponen, Sami Kyröläinen and Henna Ojaniemi for their help in the lab. This project was founded by the Academy of Finland (grant nos. 7211271 and 7119165) and a fellowship of the Belgian Fond National pour la Recherche Scientifique (FNRS). Part of the statistical analysis was conducted within the SMCS (Support en Méthodologie et Calcul Statistique – Université Catholique de Louvain).

Compliance with ethical standards

Ethical approval

All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. This work was carried out with the permission of Central Finland Environmental Centre and the Animal Care Committee of the University of Jyväskylä (permissions KSU-2003-L-25/254 and KSU-2002-L-4/254). This article does not contain any studies with human participants performed by any of the authors.

Conflict of interest

CL declares that he has no conflict of interest. CT declares that she has no conflict of interest. CDS declares that he has no conflict of interest.


This study was funded by the Academy of Finland (grant numbers 7211271 and 7119165), the Finnish Centre of Excellence in Evolutionary Research (211271), and the Fond National de la Recherche Scientifique (FNRS A4/5 - MCF/DM).

Supplementary material

265_2016_2154_MOESM1_ESM.docx (102 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 101 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christophe Lebigre
    • 1
    Email author
  • Catherine Timmermans
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
  • Carl D. Soulsbury
    • 3
  1. 1.Earth and Life InstituteCatholic University of LouvainLouvain-la-NeuveBelgium
  2. 2.Institute of Statistics, Biostatistics and Actuarial SciencesCatholic University of LouvainLouvain-la-NeuveBelgium
  3. 3.Joseph Banks Laboratories, School of Life SciencesUniversity of LincolnLincolnUK
  4. 4.Department of MathematicsUniversity of LiègeLiègeBelgium

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