Kin discrimination in sticklebacks is mediated by social learning rather than innate recognition



This article is corrected by:

  1. Errata: Erratum Volume 113, Issue 4, 414, Article first published online: 27 March 2007

Joachim G. Frommen, Institute for Evolutionary Biology and Ecology, University of Bonn, An der Immenburg 1, D-53121 Bonn, Germany.


Theory predicts several advantages for animals to recognize kin. These include inbreeding avoidance and an increase in inclusive fitness. In shoaling species, kin recognition may lead to an increased amount of altruism among shoal members. Adult, non-reproductive three-spined sticklebacks, Gasterosteus aculeatus, prefer to shoal with kin. This preference was shown for familiar as well as for unfamiliar individuals. However, whether it is based on learned cues of familiar individuals or on innate mechanisms like self-referent phenotype matching or ‘true’ kin recognition through recognition alleles remains unknown. In our experiments, juvenile fish were given the choice between shoals that differed in relatedness and familiarity. The number of testfish who joined each group indicated that sticklebacks prefer to shoal with familiar kin when the alternative shoal was composed of unfamiliar non-kin. When one shoal consisted of familiar kin while the second consisted of familiar non-kin testfish did not show any preference. Kin recognition in sticklebacks is thus most likely mediated by social learning.