Researchers have known for a long time that dolphins associate in something like human “mums’ clubs”. How important is this for successful reproduction compared with the importance of having good genes?
It turns out that both of them matter, but most notably we have found that the females who have successful relatives and successful “friends” are much better at producing calves than we would have expected from simply adding the effects of the relatives and the effects of their peer group.
This is the first discovery of interacting genetic and social effects on reproduction in the wild, and it may help us to understand whether our own behaviour and reproduction are driven by the same factors as other species. The methods can be used in any species, including humans, to investigate the interaction of social and genetic effects on not only reproduction but also disease resistance, academic ability and other traits. The work will also help us in other studies where we are trying to untangle the effects of different threatening processes on dolphin reproduction.
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