Kin recognition in rainbowfish (Melanotaenia eachamensis): sex, sibs and shoaling
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Living with relatives can be beneficial to individuals via the evolution of kin-directed altruism, but this is tempered by the increased risk of inbreeding. Therefore, in social species, the ability to recognise relatives can be highly advantageous. This study focuses on kin discrimination in the Lake Eacham rainbowfish, Melanotaenia eachamensis, an endangered freshwater species from north-east Queensland, Australia. First, I examined kin recognition abilities when a combination of both chemical and visual recognition cues was available. When given a choice of shoaling with same-sex groups, females spent significantly longer with full-sibs rather than half-sibs, full-sibs rather than non-relatives and half-sibs rather than non-relatives. Males spent significantly longer shoaling with full-brothers versus half-brothers, but showed no other shoalmate preferences. Second, in the presence of only chemical cues, females did not discriminate among groups of different levels of relatedness, but males showed a non-significant tendency to associate with full-sibs rather than non-relatives. Male shoaling behaviour seemed to be more influenced by factors other than relatedness, e.g. intra-sexual competition. Finally, I found that the shoaling preferences of females changed when exposed to groups of males. Females preferred to associate with non-relatives rather than half-brothers and non-relatives rather than full-brothers. There was no significant difference in the time spent with half-brothers versus full-brothers. Taken together, my results suggest that females have very good kin recognition abilities. They prefer to shoal with female relatives but avoid male relatives, and so are able to balance the benefits of nepotism and the costs of incest.
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