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Abstract

The ability to discriminate between related and unrelated individuals has been demonstrated in many species. The mechanisms behind this ability might be manifold and depend on the ecological context in which the species lives. In brood-caring species, both familiarity and phenotype matching are known to be used in kin recognition. However, results of studies disentangling these two phenomena have proved contradictory. We aimed to broaden our knowledge about the mechanisms of kin recognition using shoaling preferences of three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) as a model behavior. In our first experiment, focal fish had the choice to shoal either with kin or unfamiliar non-kin. In half of the trials, kin groups were composed of familiar individuals, while they were unfamiliar in the other half. Focal fish significantly preferred kin as shoaling partner, a result which was not reinforced by familiarity. In our second experiment, focal fish were given the choice between a shoal of familiar kin and a shoal of unfamiliar kin. Here, focal fish did not show any significant preference. These results indicate that familiarity does not impact stickleback's ability to recognize kin. Furthermore, they show that familiarity does not overrule recognition based on phenotype matching or innate recognition, underlining the importance of these mechanisms. Finally, our results lead to the assumption that individual recognition might play a minor role also in non-kin-based preferences for familiars.