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‘O sibling, where art thou?’ – a review of avian sibling recognition with respect to the mammalian literature

Avian literature on sibling recognition is rare compared to that developed by mammalian researchers. We compare avian and mammalian research on sibling recognition to identify why avian work is rare, how approaches differ and what avian and mammalian researchers can learn from each other. Three factors: (1) biological differences between birds and mammals, (2) conceptual biases and (3) practical constraints, appear to influence our current understanding. Avian research focuses on colonial species because sibling recognition is considered adaptive where ‘mixing potential’ of dependent young is high; research on a wider range of species, breeding systems and ecological conditions is now needed. Studies of acoustic recognition cues dominate avian literature; other types of cues (e.g. visual, olfactory) deserve further attention. The effect of gender on avian sibling recognition has yet to be investigated; mammalian work shows that gender can have important influences. Most importantly, many researchers assume that birds recognise siblings through ‘direct familiarisation’ (commonly known as associative learning or familiarity); future experiments should also incorporate tests for ‘indirect familiarisation’ (commonly known as phenotype matching). If direct familiarisation proves crucial, avian research should investigate how periods of separation influence sibling discrimination. Mammalian researchers typically interpret sibling recognition in broad functional terms (nepotism, optimal outbreeding); some avian researchers more successfully identify specific and testable adaptive explanations, with greater relevance to natural contexts. We end by reporting exciting discoveries from recent studies of avian sibling recognition that inspire further interest in this topic.
Journal Article
Type of thesis
Nakagawa, S., & Waas, J. R. (2004). ‘O sibling, where art thou?’ – a review of avian sibling recognition with respect to the mammalian literature. Biological Reviews, 79(01), 101-119.
Cambridge University Press
This article is published in the journal, Biological Reviews. Copyright © Cambridge Philosophical Society 2004.