We generally assume that inbreeding is bad and should be avoided under all circumstances. But new research by researchers at Stockholm University, published in Nature’s ecology and evolution, shows that this hypothesis is hardly supported.
The idea that animals should avoid mating with parents has been the starting point for hundreds of scientific studies done on many species. But it turns out that the picture is more complicated.
“People assume that animals should avoid mating with a parent when they have the chance,” says Raïssa de Boer, a zoological researcher at Stockholm University. “But evolutionary theory tells us that animals should tolerate, if not prefer, mating with parents under a wide range of conditions for more than four decades.”
The study provides a synthesis of 139 experimental studies of 88 species spanning 40 years of research, settling the long-standing debate between theoretical and empirical expectations over whether and when animals should avoid inbreeding.
“We are approaching the ‘elephant in the room’ studies of inbreeding avoidance by reversing the popular assumption that animals will avoid inbreeding whenever possible,” says Raïssa de Boer.
The study demonstrates that animals rarely attempt to avoid mating with parents, a finding that was consistent across a wide range of conditions and experimental approaches.
“Animals don’t seem to care whether their potential mate is a sibling, cousin, or unrelated person when they choose who to mate with,” says Regina Vega Trejo, a researcher at the University of Stockholm and author of the article.
The study also looked at prevention of inbreeding in humans, comparing the results to similar experiments on animals.
“We compared studies that asked whether humans avoid inbreeding when presented with images of faces that have been digitally manipulated to make faces look more or less related to studies using similar approaches in others. Just like other animals, it turns out that there is no evidence that humans prefer to avoid inbreeding, ”says Raïssa de Boer.
“Our findings help explain why many studies have failed to find clear support for inbreeding avoidance and offer a useful roadmap to better understand how cognitive and ecologically relevant factors shape avoidance strategies.” inbreeding in animals, ”says John Fitzpatrick, associate professor of zoology at Stockholm University. and the lead author of the study.
The results will have broad implications for conservation biology. The choice of mate is increasingly used in conservation breeding programs to attempt to succeed in conservation efforts for endangered species. What does it mean?
“One of the main goals of conservation efforts is to maintain genetic diversity, and mate choice should generally achieve this goal. Our results suggest caution in applying mate choice in conservation programs, ”says John Fitzpatrick.
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