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A dispersive morph in the naked mole-rat


CLOSE inbreeding is known for a variety of small mammal species1–4 for which a high probability of mortality during dispersal makes helping and delayed maturation a relatively secure fitness option5. Prolonged inbreeding, however, is usually associated with lowered fitness6,7, and it has been shown that most highly inbred small mammals8 and social insects9 have inbreeding-avoidance mechanisms that promote some degree of outbreeding. However, previous field and laboratory research on the naked mole-rat (Heterocephalm glaber) suggested that this cooperatively breeding rodent is highly inbred10–12, with new colonies forming by fission13. Here we report the discovery of a dispersal phenotype that may occasionally promote outbreeding in naked mole-rats. These dispersers are morphologically, physiologically and behaviourally distinct from other colony members. They are laden with fat, exhibit elevated levels of luteinizing hormone, have a strong urge to disperse, and only solicit matings with non-colony members. These findings suggest that, although rare, a dispersive morph exists within naked mole-rat colonies.

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O'Riain, M., Jarvis, J. & Faulkes, C. A dispersive morph in the naked mole-rat. Nature 380, 619–621 (1996).

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