Kin-biased behavior (that is responding differentially to kin and non-kin) is thought to be adaptive in many social interactions. One example of this kin bias is behaving less aggressively toward a relative than a non-relative, a behavior which yields inclusive fitness benefits. However, data are lacking about the ability of animals to weigh their preference for kinship and the density of conspecifics simultaneously and to respond accordingly. Fire salamanders (Salamandra infraimmaculata) larviposit in high densities in ponds. Thus, larvae of different females confront competition and predation by other larvae. We studied whether larvae prefer their kin over particular density or vice versa. We experimentally used a transparent glass aquarium with inner chambers to test the responses of a focal larva toward its siblings and non-siblings. Specifically, we quantified the time a focal larva spent near its siblings or non-siblings, presented in varying densities, and the aggression level it demonstrated. We found that focal larvae spent more time near non-siblings if non-sibling and sibling groups were of equal density. The focal larvae were also more aggressive toward non-siblings. The results may be explained by the cannibalistic nature of these larvae: high density may provide more opportunities for food, especially when non-siblings are present. Further explanations for these findings may include other advantages of staying in a larger group and/or the stronger olfactory and visual stimulation offered by groups compared to a single individual. These findings suggest that larvae make differential responses toward conspecifics depending simultaneously on the level of relatedness and the density of the group. Such responses have important implications for social—aggregation decisions and may especially affect the fitness of cannibalistic species.
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© 2019 Berkowic, Markman. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
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