Kin discrimination in the spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta): nepotism among siblings

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We examined patterns of affiliation, association, and aggression to inquire whether spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) can distinguish among various groups of maternal and paternal siblings. If so, and if these animals conform to predictions of kin selection theory, then behavioral interactions among hyenas should vary with relatedness. We also considered familiarity-based recognition and phenotype matching as mechanisms hyenas might use to recognize kin. Patterns of affiliative behavior indicated that hyenas favored full-sibling littermates over half-sibling littermates or any other group of half-siblings. Rates of dyadic aggression generally did not vary with kinship. Hyenas associated more closely with half-sibling littermates than with non-littermate half-siblings, and hyenas affiliated more with maternal half-siblings than with paternal half-siblings, suggesting that familiarity-based cues might mediate discrimination among these sibling classes. In addition, operation of a phenotype-matching mechanism was suggested by the preference hyenas demonstrated during affiliative interactions for full- over half-sibling littermates, and by their lack of preference in these interactions for half-sibling littermates over non-littermate half-siblings. Phenotype matching was also suggested by our observation that paternal half-siblings cooperated more, and fought less, than did non-kin. Our data indicate that hyenas can discriminate among various types of siblings, that their social behavior conforms to predictions of kin selection theory, and that they recognize kin using mechanisms of both familiarity and phenotype matching.

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