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Explaining negative kin discrimination in a cooperative mammal society

Thompson, Faye J; Cant, Michael A; Marshall, Harry H; Vitikainen, Emma I K; Sanderson, Jennifer L; Nichols, Hazel J; Gilchrist, Jason S; Bell, Matthew B V; Young, Andrew J; Hodge, Sarah J; Johnstone, Rufus A


Faye J Thompson

Michael A Cant

Harry H Marshall

Emma I K Vitikainen

Jennifer L Sanderson

Hazel J Nichols

Matthew B V Bell

Andrew J Young

Sarah J Hodge

Rufus A Johnstone


Kin selection theory predicts that, where kin discrimination is possible, animals should typically act more favorably toward closer genetic relatives and direct aggression toward less closely related individuals. Contrary to this prediction, we present data from an 18-y study of wild banded mongooses, Mungos mungo, showing that females that are more closely related to dominant individuals are specifically targeted for forcible eviction from the group, often suffering severe injury, and sometimes death, as a result. This pattern cannot be explained by inbreeding avoidance or as a response to more intense local competition among kin. Instead, we use game theory to show that such negative kin discrimination can be explained by selection for unrelated targets to invest more effort in resisting eviction. Consistent with our model, negative kin discrimination is restricted to eviction attempts of older females capable of resistance; dominants exhibit no kin discrimination when attempting to evict younger females, nor do they discriminate between more closely or less closely related young when carrying out infanticidal attacks on vulnerable infants who cannot defend themselves. We suggest that in contexts where recipients of selfish acts are capable of resistance, the usual prediction of positive kin discrimination can be reversed. Kin selection theory, as an explanation for social behavior, can benefit from much greater exploration of sequential social interactions.


Thompson, F. J., Cant, M. A., Marshall, H. H., Vitikainen, E. I. K., Sanderson, J. L., Nichols, H. J., …Johnstone, R. A. (2017). Explaining negative kin discrimination in a cooperative mammal society. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(20), 5207-5212.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Mar 23, 2017
Online Publication Date Apr 24, 2017
Publication Date May 16, 2017
Deposit Date Jun 12, 2017
Publicly Available Date Jun 13, 2017
Journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Electronic ISSN 1091-6490
Publisher National Academy of Sciences
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 114
Issue 20
Pages 5207-5212
Keywords kin selection, kin discrimination, conflict, cooperation, eviction,
Public URL


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