Early Sibling Conflict May Ultimately Benefit the Family

Am Nat. 2019 Oct;194(4):482-487. doi: 10.1086/704773. Epub 2019 Aug 14.


Relatives often interact differently with each other than with nonrelatives, and whether kin cooperate or compete has important consequences for the evolution of mating systems, seed size, dispersal, and competition. Previous research found that the larger of the size dimorphic seeds produced by the annual plant Aegilops triuncialis suppressed germination of their smaller sibs by 25%-60%. Here, we found evidence for kin recognition and sibling rivalry later in life among Aegilops seedlings that places seed-seed interactions in a broader context. In experiments with size dimorphic seeds, seedlings reduced the growth of sibling seedlings by ∼40% but that of nonsibling seedlings by ∼25%. These sequential antagonistic interactions between seeds and then seedlings provide insight into conflict and cooperation among kin. Kin-based conflict among seeds may maintain dormancy for some seeds until the coast is clear of more competitive siblings. If so, biotically induced seed dormancy may be a unique form of cooperation, which increases the inclusive fitness of maternal plants and offspring by minimizing competition among kin.

Keywords: asymmetry; competition; cooperation; exotic invasive; intraspecific variation; kin selection; plant-plant interactions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aegilops / growth & development*
  • Aegilops / physiology
  • Fertilizers
  • Seedlings / growth & development*
  • Seedlings / physiology
  • Seeds
  • Soil


  • Fertilizers
  • Soil