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Hamilton demonstrated that the evolution of cooperative behaviour is favoured by high relatedness, which can arise through kin discrimination or limited dispersal (population viscosity). These two processes are likely to operate with limited overlap: kin discrimination is beneficial when variation in relatedness is higher, whereas limited dispersal results in less variable and higher average relatedness, reducing selection for kin discrimination. However, most empirical work on eukaryotes has focused on kin discrimination. To address this bias, we analysed how kin discrimination and limited dispersal interact to shape helping behaviour across cooperatively breeding vertebrates. We show that kin discrimination is greater in species where the: (i) average relatedness in groups is lower and more variable; (ii) effect of helpers on breeders reproductive success is greater; and (iii) probability of helping was measured, rather than the amount of help provided. There was also an interaction between these effects with the correlation between the benefits of helping and kin discrimination being stronger in species with higher variance in relatedness. Overall, our results suggest that kin discrimination provides a route to indirect benefits when relatedness is too variable within groups to favour indiscriminate cooperation.

Original publication




Journal article


J Evol Biol

Publication Date





2445 - 2457


Animals, Biological Evolution, Birds, Mammals, Sexual Behavior, Animal, Social Behavior