Using playback of territorial calls to investigate mechanisms of kin discrimination in red squirrels

Wilson, David R. and Shonfield, Julia and Gorrell, Jamieson C. and Coltman, David W. and Boutin, Stan and Humphries, Murray M. and McAdam, Andrew G. (2017) Using playback of territorial calls to investigate mechanisms of kin discrimination in red squirrels. Behavioral Ecology, 28 (2). pp. 382-390. ISSN 1465-7279

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Kin recognition can facilitate kin selection and may have played a role in the evolution of sociality. Red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) defend territories using vocalizations known as rattles. They use rattles to discriminate kin, though the mechanism underlying this ability is unknown. Our objective was to distinguish between the mechanisms of prior association, where animals learn the phenotypes of kin they associate with early in life, and phenotype matching/recognition alleles, where animals use a template to match phenotypes, thereby allowing them to recognize kin without an association early in life. We used audio playbacks to measure the responses of squirrels to rattles from familiar kin, unfamiliar kin, and non-kin. Initial analyses revealed that red squirrels did not discriminate between familiar and unfamiliar kin, but also did not discriminate between kin and non-kin, despite previous evidence indicating this capability. Post hoc analyses showed that a squirrel’s propensity to rattle in response to playback depended on an interaction between relatedness and how the playback stimuli had been recorded. Red squirrels discriminated between rattles from close kin (r = 0.5) and rattles from non-kin (r < 0.125) when the rattles were recorded from provoked squirrels. Squirrels did not exhibit kin discrimination in response to unsolicited rattles. Once we accounted for how the stimuli had been recorded, we found no difference in the responses to familiar and unfamiliar kin. Our study suggests that kin discrimination by red squirrels may be context dependent.

Item Type: Article
Item ID: 14499
Keywords: context-dependent kin discrimination, kin recognition, local density, playback, Tamiasciurus hudsonicus, territorial vocalization
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > Psychology
Science, Faculty of > Psychology
Date: March 2017
Date Type: Publication
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