Kinship and aggression: do house sparrows spare their relatives?

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Kin-selection theory predicts that relatedness may reduce the level of aggression among competing group members, leading to indirect fitness benefits for kin-favoring individuals. To test this hypothesis, we investigated whether relatedness affects aggressive behavior during social activities in captive house sparrow (Passer domesticus) flocks. We found that sparrows did not reduce their aggression towards kin, as neither the frequency nor the intensity of fights differed between close kin and unrelated flock-mates. Fighting success was also unrelated to kinship and the presence of relatives in the flock did not influence the birds' dominance rank. These results suggest that the pay-offs of reduced aggression towards kin may be low in non-breeding flocks of sparrows, e.g. due to competition among relatives as predicted by a recent refinement of kin-selection theory. Our findings indicate that the significance of kin selection may be restricted in some social systems such as winter aggregations of birds.

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