American Society of Naturalists

A membership society whose goal is to advance and to diffuse knowledge of organic evolution and other broad biological principles so as to enhance the conceptual unification of the biological sciences.

“Kin recognition in guppies uses self-referencing on olfactory cues”

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Mitchel J. Daniel and F. Helen Rodd (Feb 2021)

Kin recognition in guppies uses self-referencing based on olfactory cues


Kin recognition plays an important role in social behavior and evolution, but the proximate mechanisms by which individuals recognize kin remain poorly understood. In many species, individuals form a “kin template” that they compare against conspecifics’ phenotypes to assess phenotypic similarity–and by association, relatedness. Individuals may form a kin template through self-inspection (i.e. self-referencing) and/or by observing their rearing associates (i.e. family-referencing). However, despite much interest, few empirical studies have successfully disentangled self- and family-referencing. Here, we employ a novel set of breeding crosses using the Trinidadian guppy (Poecilia reticulata) to disentangle referencing systems by manipulating exposure to kin from conception onwards. We show that guppies discriminate among their full- and maternal half-siblings, which can only be explained by self-referencing. Additional behavioral experiments revealed no evidence that guppies incorporate the phenotypes of their broodmates or mother into the kin template. Finally, by manipulating the format of our behavioral tests, we show that olfactory communication is both necessary and sufficient for kin discrimination. These results provide robust evidence that individuals recognize kin by comparing the olfactory phenotypes of conspecifics against their own. This study resolves key questions about the proximate mechanisms underpinning kin recognition, with implications for the ontogeny and evolution of social behavior.