Inbreeding avoidance, tolerance, or preference in animals?

Marta Szulkin, Katie V. Stopher, Josephine M. Pemberton, Jane M. Reid

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review

154 Citations (Scopus)


Animal ecologists commonly assume that the reduced fitness that often afflicts inbred offspring will inevitably cause selection for inbreeding avoidance. Although early empirical studies often reported inbreeding avoidance, recent studies suggest that animals sometimes show no avoidance or even prefer to mate with relatives. However, current theory is insufficient to predict whether animals should avoid, tolerate, or prefer inbreeding and hence to understand overall inbreeding strategy. Furthermore, quantifying inbreeding strategy is challenging, requiring relatedness among unbiased sets of actual and potential mates to be accurately estimated. Here, we highlight key limitations of current theory and empirical tests, and summarise the advances required to predict, quantify, and understand animal inbreeding strategies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)205-211
Number of pages7
JournalTrends in Ecology & Evolution
Issue number4
Early online date24 Nov 2012
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2013

Bibliographical note

We thank Magdalen College, Oxford and an IEF Marie Curie Fellowship (M.S.), NERC (K.V.S.), the Royal Society (J.M.R.), and the ERC (J.M.P.) for funding and Deborah Charlesworth, Lukas Keller Ashleigh Griffin, and two anonymous referees for helpful comments


  • inbreeding avoidance
  • inbreeding preference
  • inbreeding strategy
  • inclusive fitness
  • mate choice
  • relatedness


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