Mateo, J.M. 2017. The ontogeny of kin recognition mechanisms in Belding's ground squirrels. Physiology & Behavior, 173, 279-284.
Despite extensive research on the functions and mechanisms of kin recognition, little is known about developmental changes in the abilities mediating such recognition. Belding's ground squirrels, Urocitellus beldingi, use at least two mechanisms of kin recognition in nepotistic contexts: familiarity and phenotype matching. Because recognition templates develop from early associations with familiar kin (and/or with self), familiarity-based recognition should precede phenotype-matching recognition even though one template is thought to be used for both mechanisms. I used a cross-fostering design to produce individuals that differed in relatedness and familiarity. Two pups (one female and one male) were exchanged reciprocally between two litters within 48-h of birth. Every five days, from 15 to 30-d of age, young were exposed to bedding and oral-gland odors from their familiar foster mother and an unfamiliar unrelated female (familiarity test) and from their unfamiliar genetic mother and another unfamiliar unrelated female (phenotype-matching test). As expected, discrimination of odors based on familiarity was evident at all ages tested, whereas discrimination based on relatedness was not evident until 30-d. My results provide a first estimate for when phenotype-matching mechanisms are used by young Belding’s ground squirrels, and thus when they can recognize unfamiliar kin such as older sisters or grandmothers. Belding’s ground squirrels are the first species for which the development of the production, perception and action components are well understood.