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Researchers find incest in one mammal species appears to be the safest approach

Posted December 29, 2014

A small team of researchers with members from the U.K. and Germany has found an example of a mammal that practices frequent incest. In their paper published in the journal Biology Letters, the team describes their study of banded mongoose in their native environment in Uganda and how they found an unusually high degree of incest and offer some suggestions as to why it occurs with them.

Banded mongoose

The banded mongoose (Mungos mungo). Credit: Wikipedia. CC BY-SA 3.0

Mammals in general tend to avoid engaging in incest—prior research has suggested that over time it can lead to inbreeding depression (a fitness cost), with offspring experiencing health problems. In humans, incest is of course considered to be taboo among most groups around the world and has at times led to retribution for those that engage in the practice. In this new study, the researchers have found an apparent exception—the banded mongoose—at least those living in Queen Elizabeth National Park.

The researchers studied 14 groups living in the park over a period of sixteen years, using tracking devices and markings to help identify members from a distance. They note that mongoose live in close-knit groups with a median size of 18 adults.

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