Reproductive skew and relatedness in social groups of European badgers, Meles meles.
Dugdale HL., Macdonald DW., Pope LC., Johnson PJ., Burke T.
Reproductive skew is a measure of the proportion of individuals of each sex that breed in a group and is a valuable measure for understanding the evolution and maintenance of sociality. Here, we provide the first quantification of reproductive skew within social groups of European badgers Meles meles, throughout an 18-year study in a high-density population. We used 22 microsatellite loci to analyse within-group relatedness and demonstrated that badger groups contained relatives. The average within-group relatedness was high (R = 0.20) and approximately one-third of within-group dyads were more likely to represent first-order kin than unrelated pairs. Adult females within groups had higher pairwise relatedness than adult males, due to the high frequency of extra-group paternities, rather than permanent physical dispersal. Spatial clustering of relatives occurred among neighbouring groups, which we suggest was due to the majority of extra-group paternities being attributable to neighbouring males. Reproductive skew was found among within-group candidate fathers (B = 0.26) and candidate mothers (B = 0.07), but not among breeding individuals; our power to detect skew in the latter was low. We use these results to evaluate reproductive skew models. Although badger society best fits the assumptions of the incomplete-control models, our results were not consistent with their predictions. We suggest that this may be due to female control of paternity, female-female reproductive suppression occurring only in years with high food availability resulting in competition over access to breeding sites, extra-group paternity masking the benefits of natal philopatry, and/or the inconsistent occurrence of hierarchies that are linear when established.