Date: October 26, 2015
Source: University of Zurich
Can animals recognize distantly related, unfamiliar individuals of the same species? Siberian jays possess this ability as evolutionary biologists recently could demonstrate for the first time. This bird species belongs to the crow family and is able to accurately assess the degree of kinship to unfamiliar individuals. This ability provides advantages when sharing food and other forms of cooperation.
In few mammal, birds and fish species, individuals can recognize unfamiliar siblings. Until now, however, it remained unclear whether animals also are able to identify more distant, unfamiliar relatives. Evolutionary biologists from the University of Zurich recently demonstrated that Siberian jays, a member of the crow family, evolved this ability.
Kinship is a critical factor favoring cooperation between individuals. The reason behind this pattern is that helping closely related individuals aids propagating own genes. Consequently, most insects, meerkats or birds that breed cooperatively, i.e., individuals help to raise offspring that are not their own, live in family groups. The Siberian jay, which occurs in Northern Scandinavia and the Siberian taiga, lives in family groups that share a territory.
Non-breeding birds are both offspring that remain with their parents for several year beyond independency and individuals that immigrate into groups early in their lives.