Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo



Genetic Applications to Understanding Animal Behavior and Ecology

Carolina wrens are socially monogamous songbirds. CCG scientists conducted DNA fingerprinting analyses on Carolina wren pairs and their broods of nestlings, and found that they are also genetically monogamous—not a single pair had strayed!

Many of CCG's research projects involve using DNA methods to understand social behavior and ecology of animals in the wild. We have studied extra-pair mating in birds extensively, using genetic markers to identify extra-pair offspring and their actual parents in 18 species of birds ranging from Humboldt penguins, common loons and shorebirds to migratory songbirds such as swamp sparrows, warblers, kingbirds, and phainopeplas. CCG scientists and collaborators have also studied mating behavior in many social mammals, and have identified genetic parents and kin in species such as wooly monkeys, African elephants, South American coatis, gray seals, bats, wild dogs and kit foxes. These studies have allowed us to show how level of relatedness may affect behavioral characteristics such as aggression,nursing, and mating.

African elephant herd; Beth Archie CCG scientists used DNA markers from dung to study the mating habits of African elephants. They found that adults rarely mate with a closely related individual, even in cases where they could not "know: from experience that the individual was a close relative.
Photo credit: Beth Archie