Promiscuity and the evolutionary transition to complex societies.
Cornwallis CK., West SA., Davis KE., Griffin AS.
Theory predicts that the evolution of cooperative behaviour is favoured by low levels of promiscuity leading to high within-group relatedness. However, in vertebrates, cooperation often occurs between non-relatives and promiscuity rates are among the highest recorded. Here we resolve this apparent inconsistency with a phylogenetic analysis of 267 bird species, demonstrating that cooperative breeding is associated with low promiscuity; that in cooperative species, helping is more common when promiscuity is low; and that intermediate levels of promiscuity favour kin discrimination. Overall, these results suggest that promiscuity is a unifying feature across taxa in explaining transitions to and from cooperative societies.