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In many cooperatively breeding vertebrates, a dominant breeding pair is assisted in offspring care by nonbreeding helpers. A leading explanation for this altruistic behavior is Hamilton's idea that helpers gain indirect fitness benefits by rearing relatives (kin selection). Many studies have shown that helpers typically provide care for relatives, but relatively few have shown that helpers provide closer kin with preferential care (kin discrimination), fueling the suggestion that kin selection only poorly accounts for the evolution of cooperative breeding in vertebrates. We used meta-analysis to show that (i) individuals consistently discriminate between kin, and (ii) stronger discrimination occurs in species where the benefits of helping are greater. These results suggest a general role for kin selection and that the relative importance of kin selection varies across species, as predicted by Hamilton's rule.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





634 - 636


Altruism, Animals, Behavior, Animal, Birds, Breeding, Cooperative Behavior, Family, Female, Helping Behavior, Male, Mammals, Probability, Sexual Behavior, Animal, Social Behavior, Species Specificity