Kinship and familiarity mitigate costs of social conflict between Seychelles warbler neighbors

Kathryn Bebbington, Sjouke Kingma, Eleanor A. Fairfield, Hannah L Dugdale, Jan Komdeur, Lewis G. Spurgin, David S. Richardson

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29 Citations (Scopus)
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Because virtually all organisms compete with others in their social environment, mechanisms that reduce conflict between interacting individuals are crucial for the evolution of stable families, groups, and societies. Here, we tested whether costs of social conflict over territorial space between Seychelles warblers (Acrocephalus sechellensis) are mitigated by kin-selected (genetic relatedness) or mutualistic (social familiarity) mechanisms. By measuring longitudinal changes in individuals’ body mass and telomere length, we demonstrated that the fitness costs of territoriality are driven by a complex interplay between relatedness, familiarity, local density, and sex. Physical fights were less common at territory boundaries shared between related or familiar males. In line with this, male territory owners gained mass when living next to related or familiar males and also showed less telomere attrition when living next to male kin. Importantly, these relationships were strongest in high-density areas of the population. Males also had more rapid telomere attrition when living next to unfamiliar male neighbors, but mainly when relatedness to those neighbors was also low. In contrast, neither kinship nor familiarity was linked to body mass or telomere loss in female territory owners. Our results indicate that resolving conflict over territorial space through kin-selected or mutualistic pathways can reduce both immediate energetic costs and permanent somatic damage, thus providing an important mechanism to explain fine-scale population structure and cooperation between different social units across a broad range of taxa.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E9036–E9045
Number of pages10
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS)
Issue number43
Early online date9 Oct 2017
Publication statusPublished - 24 Oct 2017


  • Kin selection
  • mutualism
  • territoriality
  • telomeres
  • social conflict

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