Ecology of Social Evolution

pp 175-193

Kin-Recognition Mechanisms in Cooperative Breeding Systems: Ecological Causes and Behavioral Consequences of Variation

  • Jan KomdeurAffiliated withAnimal Ecology Group, University of Groningen
  • , David S. RichardsonAffiliated withCentre for Ecology, University of East Anglia
  • , Ben HatchwellAffiliated withDepartment of Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield

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The idea that kin selection plays a key role in the evolution of helping behavior is supported by evidence that in many cooperatively breeding vertebrates, helpers assist relatives. However, whether help is directed towards kin through an active kin-selection process or whether it is merely the result of passive coincidence, i.e., because the helpers normally remain on the natal territory where the recipients of help just happen to be relatives has been a long-standing debate. Moreover, the nature and evolution of active kin-discrimination mechanisms that may be used within cooperative breeding (and how these are influenced by the ecology of the species) have, until recently, received little attention. In this review, we discuss the roles of indirect and direct kin-recognition mechanisms on effective kin discrimination, with kin recognition defined in its broader sense as the differential treatment of conspecifics according to their genetic relatedness. In cooperative breeding species, indirect recognition based on spatial rules that reliably predict relatedness can result in effective kin-directed helping. However, direct recognition based on environmental or genetic cues should be able to provide more discriminating mechanisms of kin recognition. Environmentally determined recognition cues and templates could provide an effective means of kin recognition because cooperative breeders are characterized by extended associations with family on stable territories, philopatry, and high adult longevity. Examples of long-term studies that have investigated the use of kin-recognition mechanisms in cooperative breeding vertebrate species are discussed. While there is strong evidence that kin- recognition cues and templates, especially based on vocalizations, can be learned during a period of association with kin, there is no evidence for the use of genetically determined recognition cues or templates. How the ecology of a species may determine the nature and accuracy of the kin recognition mechanism that evolves, and how this will in turn determine the limits of adaptive behavior, is discussed.