Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Oh brother, where art thou? Sticklebacks prefer to be with relatives

Date:
June 7, 2013
Source:
Veterinärmedizinische Universität Wien
Summary:
Many animals are able to discriminate between related and unrelated individuals but how they do so has proven remarkably difficult to understand. Researchers in Austria have investigated the issue using the three-spined stickleback and its shoaling preferences as a model system. It turns out that the fish prefer kin to unrelated conspecifics, regardless of how familiar they are with individual shoal members. The results indicate that level of familiarity does not affect the stickleback's ability to recognize kin. Recognition based on phenotype matching or innate recognition thus seems to be the overruling mechanism when it comes to choosing members of a peer group.

Three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus)
Credit: Joachim Frommen

Many animals are able to discriminate between related and unrelated individuals but how they do so has proven remarkably difficult to understand. Joachim Frommen and colleagues at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna have investigated the issue using the three-spined stickleback and its shoaling preferences as a model system. It turns out that the fish prefer kin to unrelated conspecifics, regardless of how familiar they are with individual shoal members. The results indicate that level of familiarity does not affect the stickleback's ability to recognize kin. Recognition based on phenotype matching or innate recognition thus seems to be the overruling mechanism when it comes to choosing members of a peer group.

Numerous species, from microbes to humans and even plants, are able to distinguish relatives from others of their kind. However, it has proven remarkably difficult to uncover the underlying mechanisms. When family members remain together for life, it is likely that recognition of relatives is based on familiarity. But how do animals recognize kin if they do not live in family groups? One possible way of recognizing relatives may be "phenotype matching," in which individuals compare traits such as looks or scent of relatives with whom they are familiar to those of unknown conspecifics: shared genes can give rise to similar phenotypes. But distantly related individuals, such as those that share a genetic ancestor, may look or smell similar although they are not close relatives. Phenotype matching may thus not always be a reliable method to distinguish relatives from mere acquaintances.

Getting together with family and friends

The three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus) is known to be able to recognize both familiar and unfamiliar kin. When not breeding, juvenile and adult sticklebacks tend to gather in loose groups and seem to prefer the company of close relatives to that of "strangers." Many fish species are known to associate in groups, or shoals, the composition of which might be influenced by familiarity and relatedness. Swimming in a shoal generally minimizes the chances that an individual fish will be eaten by a predator. Forming a group of relatives thus protects not only the individual but also the family group as a whole, thereby improving the family´s chances of survival.

Recognizing cues about relatedness

To investigate the preference for joining a certain shoal, Joachim Frommen and his colleagues at the Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology exposed a number of individual sticklebacks to two shoals, one of siblings and one of strangers. In each case, the test fish was free to select which shoal to join. The "stranger group" was composed of unfamiliar individuals only, while in some tests the "sibling group" was composed of familiar siblings and in others of unfamiliar siblings. The researchers found that the test fish preferred to join the "sibling group" irrespective of whether it was familiar with the siblings. In a second experiment the fish were given the choice between groups of familiar and unfamiliar kin. Surprisingly, no preference could be detected. The results show that the preference for kin is not determined by familiarity, at least in this species. "It seems that the fish learn early in life to recognize cues of closely related group members such as olfactory cues and they infer kin status from these cues whenever they meet conspecifics. Whether they have met the individual conspecifics before has only a minor role," says author Joachim Frommen.

The article "Investigating the Effect of Familiarity on Kin Recognition of Three-Spined Stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus)" by Joachim G. Frommen, Sarah M. Zala, Shirley Raveh, Franziska C. Schaedelin, Bettina Wernisch and Attila Hettyey is published in the current issue of the journal Ethology (Vol. 119, pp. 531-539)


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Veterinärmedizinische Universität Wien. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Joachim G. Frommen, Sarah M. Zala, Shirley Raveh, Franziska C. Schaedelin, Bettina Wernisch, Attila Hettyey. Investigating the Effect of Familiarity on Kin Recognition of Three-Spined Stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus). Ethology, 2013; 119 (6): 531 DOI: 10.1111/eth.12091

Cite This Page:

Veterinärmedizinische Universität Wien. "Oh brother, where art thou? Sticklebacks prefer to be with relatives." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 June 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130607085209.htm>.
Veterinärmedizinische Universität Wien. (2013, June 7). Oh brother, where art thou? Sticklebacks prefer to be with relatives. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130607085209.htm
Veterinärmedizinische Universität Wien. "Oh brother, where art thou? Sticklebacks prefer to be with relatives." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/06/130607085209.htm (accessed July 24, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Dogs Appear To Become Jealous Of Owners' Attention

Dogs Appear To Become Jealous Of Owners' Attention

Newsy (July 23, 2014) — A U.C. San Diego researcher says jealousy isn't just a human trait, and dogs aren't the best at sharing the attention of humans with other dogs. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Professor Creates Site Revealing Where People's Cats Live

Professor Creates Site Revealing Where People's Cats Live

Newsy (July 23, 2014) — ​It's called I Know Where Your Cat Lives, and you can keep hitting the "Random Cat" button to find more real cats all over the world. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Stone Fruit Listeria Scare Causes Sweeping Recall

Stone Fruit Listeria Scare Causes Sweeping Recall

Newsy (July 22, 2014) — The Wawona Packing Company has issued a voluntary recall on the stone fruit it distributes due to a possible Listeria outbreak. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Michigan Plant's Goal: Flower and Die

Michigan Plant's Goal: Flower and Die

AP (July 22, 2014) — An 80-year-old agave plant, which is blooming for the first and only time at a University of Michigan conservatory, will die when it's done (July 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins