Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 70, Issue 12, pp 2139–2147 | Cite as

An experimental test of relatedness-based mate discrimination in a social lizard

  • Genevieve Bordogna
  • George Cunningham
  • Luisa J. Fitzpatrick
  • Ben Halliwell
  • Hannah E. A. MacGregor
  • Kirke L. Munch
  • Erik Wapstra
  • Geoffrey M. While
Original Article


One of the major decisions individuals of many species make when deciding who to mate with is whether or not to inbreed. The prevailing theory is that individuals should avoid mating with closely related individuals because of the fitness costs associated with decreased offspring quality. However, theoretical work has suggested that levels of inbreeding depression need to be considerable for these costs to outweigh the possible, kin selected, benefits of inbreeding. While evidence for a preference for inbreeding exists in the literature, empirical results currently lag well behind theory. Here, we conducted an experiment to examine mate discrimination and preference with respect to relatedness in a natural population of the family living lizard, Liopholis whitii. We show that both male and female L. whitii distinguish between related and unrelated individuals and, furthermore, that both sexes preferentially associate with more closely related members of the opposite sex. These results correspond closely with patterns of pairing observed in the wild where both males and females have been shown to choose mating pairs that are more closely related to them than expected by chance. Combined, our findings suggest that mate choice in this system may represent an active preference for mating with related individuals rather than a result of passive constraints associated with population viscosity.

Significance statement

In species with long-term pair bonds, who to pair with is one of the most important decisions an organism will make. Much of the research on this topic focusses on avoiding individuals who are closely related, because mating with closely related individuals (e.g. inbreeding) decreases offspring quality. However, avoiding inbreeding may not always be the optimal strategy; it may actually pay to inbreed under certain conditions. Using a family living lizard that forms long-term pair bonds, we show that males and females preferentially associate with more related potential mates when given a choice. These results add to a growing body of literature which suggests that partner choice with respect to relatedness may be the result of an active preference for more related individuals rather than a result of constraints on optimal partner choice.


Inbreeding avoidance Inbreeding preference Mate choice Egernia Kin discrimination 



We thank Amber Demir for assistance with the molecular work and two anonymous reviewers for insightful comments on earlier versions of the MS.

Compliance with ethical standards


This research was supported by a Holsworth Wildlife Endowment Grant (to GMW). GWM and EW are supported by the Australian Research Council.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All applicable institutional and/or national guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. All procedures performed in studies involving animals were in accordance with the ethical standards of the University of Tasmania, Australia.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Genevieve Bordogna
    • 1
    • 2
  • George Cunningham
    • 1
  • Luisa J. Fitzpatrick
    • 1
  • Ben Halliwell
    • 1
  • Hannah E. A. MacGregor
    • 1
  • Kirke L. Munch
    • 1
  • Erik Wapstra
    • 1
  • Geoffrey M. While
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Biological SciencesUniversity of TasmaniaHobartAustralia
  2. 2.Global Engagement ServicesSlippery Rock UniversitySlippery RockUSA

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