This Turkey Tuesday is about kin selection. Kin selection is the concept where in a highly competitive breeding situation, a tom’s best bet to increase their own fitness may be to help their dominant brother attract hens. In birds like turkeys with dominance hierarchies, subdominant toms may not be breeders in a given season, but if they help their sibling secure more breeding opportunities, they indirectly contribute to the next generation. This concept helps partially explain why you see groups of toms displaying together – we’ve believed them to be related. Indeed, earlier research showed that kin selection was present in Rio Grande turkeys, and it’s been assumed to function uniformly across all subspecies. Well, recent research by Sara Watkins and others suggests that kin selection may not function the same in Easterns. Depending on the population studied, genetics data shows clearly that some groups of toms are not related at all, and if they are, they’re distant relatives. In other groups, brothers may be present along with cousins and other close relatives, and some of these groups could contain fathers and offspring. In fact, on a single study site, relatedness within groups of toms may be a toss-up, some groups may contain brothers and others may contain toms that are entirely unrelated. These findings suggest that the occurrence of kin selection in wild turkeys may vary a lot spatially, which has been shown in other birds with a mating system like turkeys. It’s unclear what could cause such variability, hopefully research will tease out some explanations. The take home is, the mating system of the wild turkey is an amazing and complex process that at least partially hinges on relatedness and the presence of kin in your breeding areas.
Photo @ Tes Randle Jolly