Inbreeding, inbreeding depression and infidelity in a cooperatively-breeding bird

Gabriela K. Hajduk, Andrew Cockburn, Nicolas Margraf, Helen L. Osmond, Craig A Walling, Loeske Kruuk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Inbreeding depression plays a major role in shaping mating systems: in particular, inbreeding avoidance is often proposed as a mechanism explaining extra-pair reproduction in socially-monogamous species. This suggestion relies on assumptions which are rarely comprehensively tested: that inbreeding depression is present, that higher kinship between social partners increases infidelity, and that infidelity reduces the frequency of inbreeding. Here, we test these assumptions using 26 years of data for a cooperatively-breeding, socially-monogamous bird with high female infidelity, the superb fairy-wren (Malurus cyaneus). Although inbred individuals were rare (~6% of offspring), we found evidence of inbreeding depression in nestling mass (but not in fledgling survival). Mother-son social pairings resulted in 100% infidelity, but kinship between a social pair did not otherwise predict female infidelity. Nevertheless, extra-pair offspring were less likely to be inbred than within-pair offspring. Finally, the social environment (the number of helpers in a group) did not affect offspring inbreeding coefficients or levels of inbreeding depression. In conclusion, despite some agreement with the assumptions that are necessary for inbreeding avoidance to drive infidelity, the apparent scarcity of inbreeding events and the observed levels of inbreeding depression seem insufficient to explain the ubiquitous infidelity in this system, beyond the mother-son mating avoidance.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages15
JournalEvolution: International Journal of Organic Evolution
Early online date15 May 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 15 May 2018

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • inbreeding depression
  • inbreeding avoidance
  • infidelity
  • extra-pair
  • cooperative breeding


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