Meta-analytic evidence that animals rarely avoid inbreeding

Raïssa A. de Boer*, Regina Vega-Trejo*, Alexander Kotrschal, John L. Fitzpatrick

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


Animals are usually expected to avoid mating with relatives (kin avoidance) as incestuous mating can lead to the expression of inbreeding depression. Yet, theoretical models predict that unbiased mating with regards to kinship should be common, and that under some conditions, the inclusive fitness benefits associated with inbreeding can even lead to a preference for mating with kin. This mismatch between empirical and theoretical expectations generates uncertainty as to the prevalence of inbreeding avoidance in animals. Here, we synthesized 677 effect sizes from 139 experimental studies of mate choice for kin versus non-kin in diploid animals, representing 40 years of research, using a meta-analytical approach. Our meta-analysis revealed little support for the widely held view that animals avoid mating with kin, despite clear evidence of publication bias. Instead, unbiased mating with regards to kinship appears widespread across animals and experimental conditions. The significance of a variety of moderators was explored using meta-regressions, revealing that the degree of relatedness and prior experience with kin explained some variation in the effect sizes. Yet, we found no difference in kin avoidance between males and females, choice and no-choice experiments, mated and virgin animals or between humans and animals. Our findings highlight the need to rethink the widely held view that inbreeding avoidance is a given in experimental studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)949-964
JournalNature Ecology and Evolution
Issue number7
Early online date3 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021


Dive into the research topics of 'Meta-analytic evidence that animals rarely avoid inbreeding'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this