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1. In populations where inbreeding causes a substantial decrease in fitness, selection is expected to favour the evolution of inbreeding avoidance behaviours. Elsewhere we have documented substantial inbreeding depression and the importance of dispersal in avoiding inbreeding in a long-term population study of the great tit Parus major in Wytham (UK). In this study, we ask whether individuals from this population actively avoid mating with kin. 2. We generated four contrasting models of random mate choice that assumed varying levels of mate availability in each year of the data set. This allowed us to compare observed and simulated distributions and frequencies of inbreeding coefficients from 41 years of breeding data. 3. We found no evidence that birds avoid mating with related partners. Our results show that birds breed more often with relatives than expected under null models of mate choice that lack population structure, but not when compared to scenarios where birds were mated with their nearest neighbours. Pedigree-derived F(IS) values were positive for all scenarios of random mating, confirming the lack of inbreeding avoidance in this population. 4. These results imply the existence of spatial genetic structure where related individuals occur closer together than nonrelated individuals while breeding, and suggest that the relatedness between breeding individuals of the opposite sex decreases with distance. Thus, while dispersal from the natal site decreases the number of relatives around an individual, it does not completely homogenize genetic structure. 5. We show that brother-sister pairs are observed more often than under any scenario of random mating, suggesting that not only birds do not avoid mating with kin, but also that the apparently maladaptive choice of mating with a sibling is made more often than expected. 6. Our results provide no evidence to suggest that individuals actively avoid kin. In fact, some types of inbreeding occur more often than expected, despite the substantial fitness costs. The observed lack of inbreeding avoidance is in agreement with other studies of non-cooperatively breeding passerine birds, although the higher than expected frequency of sibling mating remains a puzzling result.

Original publication




Journal article


J Anim Ecol

Publication Date





778 - 788


Animals, Female, Inbreeding, Male, Models, Biological, Passeriformes, Population Dynamics, Sexual Behavior, Animal, Time Factors