Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

Inbreeding depression plays a major role in shaping mating systems: in particular, inbreeding avoidance is often proposed as a mechanism explaining extra-pair reproduction in socially monogamous species. This suggestion relies on assumptions that are rarely comprehensively tested: that inbreeding depression is present, that higher kinship between social partners increases infidelity, and that infidelity reduces the frequency of inbreeding. Here, we test these assumptions using 26 years of data for a cooperatively breeding, socially monogamous bird with high female infidelity, the superb fairy-wren (Malurus cyaneus). Although inbred individuals were rare (∼6% of offspring), we found evidence of inbreeding depression in nestling mass (but not in fledgling survival). Mother-son social pairings resulted in 100% infidelity, but kinship between a social pair did not otherwise predict female infidelity. Nevertheless, extra-pair offspring were less likely to be inbred than within-pair offspring. Finally, the social environment (the number of helpers in a group) did not affect offspring inbreeding coefficients or inbreeding depression levels. In conclusion, despite some agreement with the assumptions that are necessary for inbreeding avoidance to drive infidelity, the apparent scarcity of inbreeding events and the observed levels of inbreeding depression seem insufficient to explain the ubiquitous infidelity in this system, beyond the mother-son mating avoidance.

Original publication





Evolution; international journal of organic evolution

Publication Date



Institute of Evolutionary Biology, School of Biological Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom.