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Explaining negative kin discrimination in a cooperative mammal society

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • Faye J. Thompson
  • Michael A. Cant
  • Harry H. Marshall
  • Emma I.K. Vitikainen
  • Jennifer L. Sanderson
  • Hazel J. Nichols
  • Jason S. Gilchrist
  • Matthew B.V. Bell
  • Andrew R J Young
  • Sarah J. Hodge
  • Rufus A. Johnstone

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5207-5212
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)
Issue number20
Publication statusPublished - 16 May 2017


Kin selection theory predicts that, where kin discrimination is possible, animals should typically act more favorably toward closer genetic relatives and direct aggression toward less closely related individuals. Contrary to this prediction, we present data from an 18-y study of wild banded mongooses, Mungos mungo, showing that females that are more closely related to dominant individuals are specifically targeted for forcible eviction from the group, often suffering severe injury, and sometimes death, as a result. This pattern cannot be explained by inbreeding avoidance or as a response to more intense local competition among kin. Instead, we use game theory to show that such negative kin discrimination can be explained by selection for unrelated targets to invest more effort in resisting eviction. Consistent with our model, negative kin discrimination is restricted to eviction attempts of older females capable of resistance; dominants exhibit no kin discrimination when attempting to evict younger females, nor do they discriminate between more closely or less closely related young when carrying out infanticidal attacks on vulnerable infants who cannot defend themselves. We suggest that in contexts where recipients of selfish acts are capable of resistance, the usual prediction of positive kin discrimination can be reversed. Kin selection theory, as an explanation for social behavior, can benefit from much greater exploration of sequential social interactions.

    Research areas

  • Conflict, Cooperation, Eviction, Kin discrimination, Kin selection

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