• kinship;
  • mating system;
  • monogamy;
  • mound-building mice;
  • olfactory memory;
  • partner preference;
  • reproduction

Mound-building mice Mus spicilegus exhibit life-history traits that are unique among the Mus species complex, such as the cooperative mound-building behaviour that gives the species its common name. In this and other socially coordinated activities, such as those associated with reproduction, these mice should be able to recognize individuals (via discrimination based on kinship, population and species) to mediate their interactions. Our previous studies have provided evidence of population and species recognition in M. spicilegus. The aims of the present study were: (i) to study associations of mice during their reproductive period (in outdoor enclosures), (ii) to investigate whether there is an influence of relatedness of females in these associations, (iii) to determine whether female M. spicilegus are able to make kin vs. non-kin discriminations, and (iv) to study certain neurobiological correlates of male–female bonds. Stable male–female associations were found in almost all the experimental groups, both those with unrelated and unfamiliar females and those with unfamiliar sisters. Kinship between females did not affect female associations in our enclosure experiment, but in our kin discrimination experiment females did distinguish between unfamiliar sisters and unfamiliar unrelated females. Shared kinship may not encourage cooperative rearing of pups but could enhance cooperation in building mounds where mice over-winter. Male–female associations could be based on a social bond, as hypothesized from previous laboratory experiments. This was substantiated in this study by increased olfactory bulbar neurogenesis in females that preferred (in two choice tests) their sexual partner 3 weeks after their first mating. Based on these results there is clear evidence to suggest that the mating system of M. spicilegus is social monogamy. © 2005 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2005, 84, 323–334.