Voice keeps incest at bay in the wild

Last Updated: Fri, Nov 30, 2012 05:50 hrs

Washington, Nov 30 (IANS) Voice recognition is one way that mammals in the wild avoid the dangers of inbreeding with paternal kin, researchers in a US university have found.

It was believed that only large-brained animals with complex social groups have the ability to recognise kin and avoid incest, but a new study provides evidence drawn from tiny, solitary primates.

The study, led by Sharon E. Kessler from the Arizona State University, finds that the grey mouse lemur -- a small-brained, solitary foraging mammal endemic to Madagascar -- is able to recognise paternal relatives through their voice.

The mammal offers evidence that this ability is not limited to animals with large brains and social complexity, as previously suggested, the BMC Ecology reports.

Because grey mouse lemurs are nocturnal solitary-foragers living in dense forests, vocal communication is important for regulating social interactions across distances where visibility is poor and communication via smell is limited, according to an Arizona statement.

Though the mouse lemur shares sleeping sites with other mouse lemurs, it forages alone for fruit and insects.

It is a particularly interesting species with which to study vocal paternal recognition because, in the wild, females remain in the same area of birth and cooperatively raise young with other female kin.

Males do not co-nest with their mates or young and provide no paternal care, which limits opportunities for familiarity-based social interactions.

Thus, vocalizations are likely to be important -- particularly for avoiding inbreeding.

Kessler commented: "This suggests that the mechanisms for kin recognition like those seen here may be the foundation from which more complex forms of kin-based sociality evolved."

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