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*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Abstract: 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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2139-2147
Number of pages9
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Amber Demir for assistance with the molecular work and two anonymous reviewers for insightful comments on earlier versions of the MS. George Cunningham, Luisa J. Fitzpatrick, Ben Halliwell, Hannah E. A. MacGregor, Kirke L. Munch joint 2nd author. This research was supported by a Holsworth Wildlife Endowment Grant (to GMW). GWM and EW are supported by the Australian Research Council.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016, Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.

Copyright 2018 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Egernia
  • Inbreeding avoidance
  • Inbreeding preference
  • Kin discrimination
  • Mate choice


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