Testing predictions of inclusive fitness theory in inbreeding relatives with biparental care

Elizabeth Gow* (Corresponding Author), Peter Arcese, Danielle Dagenais, Rebecca J. Sardell, Scott Wilson, Jane M. Reid

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Inclusive fitness theory predicts that parental care will vary with relatedness between potentially caring parents and offspring, potentially shaping mating system evolution. Systems with extra pair paternity (EPP), and hence variable parent-brood relatedness, provide valuable opportunities to test this prediction. However, existing theoretical and empirical studies assume that a focal male is either an offspring’s father with no inbreeding, or is completely unrelated. We highlight that this simple dichotomy does not hold given reproductive interactions among relatives, complicating the effect of EPP on parent-brood relatedness yet providing new opportunities to test inclusive fitness theory. Accordingly, we tested hierarchical hypotheses relating parental feeding rate to parent-brood relatedness, parent kinship and inbreeding, using song sparrows (Melospiza melodia) experiencing natural variation in relatedness. As predicted, male and female feeding rates increased with relatedness to a dependent brood, even controlling for brood size. Male feeding rate tended to decrease as paternity loss increased, and increased with increasing kinship and hence inbreeding between socially-paired mates. We thereby demonstrate that variation in a key component of parental care concurs with subtle predictions from inclusive fitness theory. We additionally highlight that such effects can depend on the underlying social mating system, potentially generating status-specific costs of extra-pair reproduction.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20191933
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1916
Publication statusPublished - 4 Dec 2019


  • extra-pair paternity
  • inbreeding
  • inclusive fitness
  • kinship
  • parental care
  • parent-offspring relatedness


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