The importance of kinship
The question of why animals help others is a long-standing one in biology, and one that several ABEL members have focused their research upon. Helping relatives that share at least some genes with potential donors is one way that individuals can benefit from providing help, however evidence for this phenomenon can be tricky to uncover in simple societies where there is no option other than to help kin. Helping behaviour in so-called complex societies, where individuals have the option to interact with a range of potential recipients, from close kin through to non-relatives, allow a larger range of hypotheses to be tested.
Using the complex society of Bell Miners (Manorina melanophrys), we were able to demonstrate that even though nearly all individuals provided some aid, helpers still preferred to aid their closer relatives to a greater degree. Further, Bell Miners appear to assess their relatedness to others by using acoustic call similarity as a proxy – helping those individuals in their society with calls that are more similar to their own. As calls appear to genetically derived rather than learnt, this provides helpers with a good proxy of their relatedness to others.
For more information, contact Prof. Paul McDonald