Detect thy family: Mechanisms, ecology and agricultural aspects of kin recognition in plants

Niels P.R. Anten*, Bin J.W. Chen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


The phenomenon that organisms can distinguish genetically related individuals from strangers (i.e., kin recognition) and exhibit more cooperative behaviours towards their relatives (i.e., positive kin discrimination) has been documented in a wide variety of organisms. However, its occurrence in plants has been considered only recently. Despite the concerns about some methodologies used to document kin recognition, there is sufficient evidence to state that it exists in plants. Effects of kin recognition go well beyond reducing resource competition between related plants and involve interactions with symbionts (e.g., mycorrhizal networks). Kin recognition thus likely has important implications for evolution of plant traits, diversity of plant populations, ecological networks and community structures. Moreover, as kin selection may result in less competitive traits and thus greater population performance, it holds potential promise for crop breeding. Exploration of these evo-ecological and agricultural implications requires adequate control and measurements of relatedness, sufficient replication at genotypic level and comprehensive measurements of performance/fitness effects of kin discrimination. The primary questions that need to be answered are: when, where and by how much positive kin discrimination improves population performance.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPlant Cell and Environment
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Feb 2021


  • cooperative behaviour
  • crop breeding
  • group performance
  • inclusive fitness
  • kin discrimination
  • kin selection
  • plant communication
  • resource competition
  • root exudates
  • root interaction

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