Extra-group paternity varies with proxies of relatedness in a social mammal with high inbreeding risk

David A. Wells, Michael A. Cant, Faye J. Thompson, Harry Marshall, Emma I K Vitikainen, Joseph Hoffman, Hazel Nichols

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Behavioral mechanisms for avoiding inbreeding are common in the natural world and are believed to have evolved as a response to the negative consequences of inbreeding. However, despite a fundamental role in fitness, we have a limited understanding of the cues that individuals use to assess inbreeding risk, as well as the extent to which individual inbreeding behavior is repeatable. We used piecewise structural equation modeling of 24 years of data to investigate the causes and consequences of within- versus extra-group paternity in banded mongooses. This cooperatively breeding mammal lives in tight-knit social groups that often contain closely related opposite-sex breeders, so inbreeding can be avoided through extra-group mating. We used molecular parentage assignments to show that, despite extra-group paternity resulting in outbred offspring, within-group inbreeding occurs frequently, with around 16% litters being moderately or highly inbred. Additionally, extra-group paternity appears to be plastic, with females mating outside of their social group according to individual proxies (age and immigration status) and societal proxies (group size and age) of within-group inbreeding risk but not in direct response to levels of within-group relatedness. While individual repeatability in extra-group paternity was relatively low, female cobreeders showed high repeatability, suggesting a strong constraint arising from the opportunities for extra-group mating. The use of extra-group paternity as an inbreeding avoidance strategy is, therefore, limited by high costs, opportunity constraints, and the limited reliability of proxies of inbreeding risk.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberaraa105
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)94-104
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Fields of Science

  • 1181 Ecology, evolutionary biology
  • banded mongoose
  • behavioral plasticity
  • cooperative breeder
  • extra-group paternity
  • extrapair paternity
  • inbreeding avoidance
  • personality
  • repeatability

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