African bird may be nature’s evil stepdad

24 August 2016

In a study published yesterday in Biology Letters, UCT alumnus Martha Nelson-Flower uncovers the nepotism apparent in the relationships between male southern pied babblers.

Subordinate male birds spend less time in a breeding group if they are unrelated to the dominant male bird, so it seems that stepfathers favour their biological sons. Subordinate male birds are essentially pushed out of the group by their stepdads or, in some cases, their brothers-in-law.

The preferential treatment seen in the male birds was not observed among the females.

“The research is some of the first to show that the sex of both dominant and subordinate birds, and the genetic relationship between them, has a significant impact on their family groups and cooperative breeding behaviour,” said Nelson-Flower, who is currently completing a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of British Columbia’s faculty of forestry.

To read the full study, Nepotism and subordinate tenure in a cooperative breeder, click here.

Photo Supplied.

Caption The southern pied babbler is found in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

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