June 29, 2009

Kittiwake birds avoid inbreeding

An Austrian-led study has found the black-legged kittiwake bird, a monogamous species, has the ability to choose partners with a different genetic profile.

The researchers, led by Richard Wagner from the Konrad Lorenz Institute for Ethology of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, said avoidance of inbreeding is evident among humans, and has been demonstrated in some shorebirds, mice and sand lizards. Now the black-legged kittiwake has been added to that list.

The scientists said they tracked 10 genetic markers to investigate whether kittiwakes avoid inbreeding by pairing with genetically distant mates, and whether inbreeding reduces the number of chicks they raised.

They found most pairs avoid inbreeding more often than expected by chance, suggesting kittiwakes can somehow tell who their relatives are in a large anonymous population.

The researchers said their study provides the first evidence of inbreeding avoidance in a strictly monogamous species, in which both parents contribute to rearing offspring.

The study that included Etienne Danchin from Paul Sabatier University in Toulouse, France, as well as researchers from the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Parks, the Alaska Science Center and the University of Bern appears in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology.