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Choosy Cannibals Preferentially Consume Siblings with Relatively Low Fitness Prospects

When an individual can selfishly cannibalize a relative or altruistically set it free, the benefits of altruism will be positively associated with the relative’s fitness prospects (the benefits it receives from altruism). We tested the prediction that altruism should be preferentially directed toward high-quality relatives using larvae of the New Mexican spadefoot toad (Spea multiplicata), a species in which tadpoles plastically express omnivore and carnivore ecomorphs. In a no-choice design, we presented carnivores with sibling or nonsibling omnivores varying in developmental stage, which is positively associated with survival in this toad’s ephemeral larval environment. There was a significant interaction between relatedness and developmental stage on the probability of cannibalism: carnivores were overall more likely to cannibalize less developed omnivores, but this effect was exaggerated when the potential victim was a sibling. This evidence that altruists favor relatives with high fitness prospects highlights the numerous factors shaping altruism’s payoffs.