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Paternal kin recognition in the high frequency / ultrasonic range in a solitary foraging mammal

Sharon E Kessler12*, Marina Scheumann2, Leanne T Nash1 and Elke Zimmermann2

Author Affiliations

1 School of Human Evolution & Social Change (SHESC), Arizona State University, Box 872402, Tempe, AZ, 85287-2402, USA

2 Institute of Zoology, University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover, Buenteweg 17, Hannover, 30559, Germany

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BMC Ecology 2012, 12:26  doi:10.1186/1472-6785-12-26

Published: 30 November 2012



Kin selection is a driving force in the evolution of mammalian social complexity. Recognition of paternal kin using vocalizations occurs in taxa with cohesive, complex social groups. This is the first investigation of paternal kin recognition via vocalizations in a small-brained, solitary foraging mammal, the grey mouse lemur (Microcebus murinus), a frequent model for ancestral primates. We analyzed the high frequency/ultrasonic male advertisement (courtship) call and alarm call.


Multi-parametric analyses of the calls’ acoustic parameters and discriminant function analyses showed that advertisement calls, but not alarm calls, contain patrilineal signatures. Playback experiments controlling for familiarity showed that females paid more attention to advertisement calls from unrelated males than from their fathers. Reactions to alarm calls from unrelated males and fathers did not differ.


1) Findings provide the first evidence of paternal kin recognition via vocalizations in a small-brained, solitarily foraging mammal. 2) High predation, small body size, and dispersed social systems may select for acoustic paternal kin recognition in the high frequency/ultrasonic ranges, thus limiting risks of inbreeding and eavesdropping by predators or conspecific competitors. 3) Paternal kin recognition via vocalizations in mammals is not dependent upon a large brain and high social complexity, but may already have been an integral part of the dispersed social networks from which more complex, kin-based sociality emerged.

Kin selection; Inbreeding avoidance; Social complexity; Vocalization