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Keywords:

  • dispersal;
  • elephants;
  • inbreeding avoidance;
  • mate choice

Abstract

Perhaps the most important ‘decision’ made by any animal (or plant) is whether to disperse — leave kith and kin, or remain with the familiar and related. The benefits of staying at home are obvious, so dispersal requires an explanation — and the most popular is that dispersal functions to avoid inbreeding depression. Strong support comes from the observation that dispersal is so often sex biased. Simply put, all else being equal members of both sexes should prefer to remain philopatric, but this would lead to inbreeding depression so members of one sex have to disperse. In principle, this link between inbreeding depression and sex-biased dispersal could be broken if individuals recognize close kin and avoid mating with them. Archie et al. (2007) provide one of the most compelling analyses to date of the interaction among inbreeding avoidance, kin recognition and mating strategies in any mammal, clearly showing that elephants recognize even close paternal kin and avoid mating with them. Their important results illuminate the subtleties of elephant inbreeding avoidance as well as illustrate the difficulty of arriving at definitive answers to questions about the evolution of dispersal behaviour.