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To Avoid Inbreeding Seabirds Use Scent to Identify Kin

Jul 24, 2012 11:04 AM EDT

Seabirds can identify their relatives using the scent they gather from other individuals, according to scientists.

A team of scientists led by researcher Francesco Bonadonna, from the Centre of Functional and Evolutionary Ecology in Montpellier performed a test on a group of  European storm petrels, a kind of seabirds which are said to live in the same territory throughout their life.

The researchers collected the scent of the seabirds by taking swabs and placed one cotton swab that had the scent of a relative seabird on one arm and the swab with a scent of non-relative seabird on the other arm. Most of the birds chose the swab that had the scent of an unrelated bird, according to a report in BBC.

The scent swabs help the seabirds to identify their relatives and avoid mating with them.

Researchers originally believed seabirds chose their mates based on their vision and sound. But the new study has shown seabirds actually choose based on their ability to identify the scent of another individual, a quality which is quite commonly used by the animal kingdom.

"There are various ways individuals may recognize kin and [smell] has recently been found to be quite a common mechanism in mammals, but there had been little evidence for this in birds," Rus Hoelzel professor at the University of Durham told BBC News. "This study now provides some careful experimentation and good evidence [for it]."

Researchers believe the study will help in understanding the impact of human activity on the animal kingdom.

The study has been published in the journal Animal Behaviour.

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