The cooperatively breeding bell miner, Manorina melanophrys, differs from most other cooperative breeding species in the complexity of its social system, where discrete social organization occurs on at least three levels. Microsatellite markers were used to investigate the degree of genetic structure underlying the social organization of M. melanophrys by comparing colonies, coteries and nest contingents. The genetic data confirmed behavioural observations of M. melanophrys living in male kin-based groups between which females disperse short distances to breed. Estimates of FST revealed restricted gene flow between eight colonies located within 30 km that was significantly associated with geographical distance when the two most distant colonies were included. Within a high density colony significant differences were found between coteries; analysis of the degree of relatedness between coterie members showed that this is due to related individuals associating preferentially with each other. Similarly, the contingent of individuals attending a nest were generally close relatives of the young they were aiding, supporting models invoking kin selection as the selective agency mediating helping.
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