Mateo, J.M. 2002. Kin recognition abilities and nepotism as a function of sociality. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B, 269, 721-727.
Despite widespread interest in kin selection and nepotism, relatively little is known about the perceptual abilities of animals to recognize their relatives. Here I show that a highly nepotistic species, Belding's ground squirrels (Spermophilus beldingi), produces odours from at least two sources that correlate with relatedness (‘kin labels') and that ground squirrels can use these odours to make accurate discriminations among never before encountered (‘unfamiliar') kin. Recognition odours appear to vary linearly with relatedness, rather than in an all-or-none fashion, allowing precise estimates of kinship even among distant relatives. Thus S. beldingi are able to recognize their distant kin and male kin, even though they do not treat them preferentially. I also show that a closely related species (S. lateralis) similarly produces kin labels and discriminates among kin, although it shows no evidence of kin-directed behaviours. Thus, contrary to a commonly held assumption, kin favouritism and recognition abilities can evolve independently, depending on variation in the costs and benefits of nepotism for a given species.