Banded mongoose ‘babysits’ a pup at the den. Photo credit Hazel Nichols

Banded mongoose ‘babysits’ a pup at the den.

Project Overview

Project name: Inbreeding and inbreeding avoidance in the wild

Breeding with close relatives results in inbreeding depression, which commonly selects for inbreeding avoidance behaviours. However, there is a subset of species for which inbreeding is thought to be a regular part of the breeding system. One such species is the banded mongoose. Along with Dr Jenni Sanderson and Prof Mike Cant from the University of Exeter, we have shown that the banded mongoose Mungos mungo shows high levels of inbreeding in the wild, with around 9% of pups being the product of father-daughter or brother-sister matings. Such frequent inbreeding probably occurs because both males and females stay in the same family group that they were born in, so have limited opportunities to mate with unrelated individuals. Despite this, banded mongooses do try to avoid inbreeding where possible. For example, males prefer to guard unrelated receptive females than related females during the mating season. In addition, females will sometimes risk their own lives to mate with males from rival groups during 'warfare' between neighbouring groups.  

Our research on inbreeding and inbreeding avoidance in the banded mongoose continues. In particular, we are investigating:

1. What are the drivers of inbreeding?  In particular, what are the social factors that shape inbreeding behaviour, and is the propensity to inbreed heritable?

2. Is inbreeding avoided, and if so, how?  Are banded mongooses able to recognise relatives on the basis of dispersal, familiarity or phenotype matching (e.g. scent).

3. What are consequences of inbreeding in a cooperative mammal?   At its most basic level, inbreeding increases relatedness between group members, which may in turn increase the benefits of cooperation.  Alternatively, inbred mongooses may be in poor condition and so be less able to help than outbred individuals. Consequently, inbreeding could have important impacts on the distribution of helping behaviour within social groups.