Cookies on this website

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Accept all cookies' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. If you click 'Reject all non-essential cookies' only necessary cookies providing core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility will be enabled. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

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.

Original publication




Journal article


Mol Ecol

Publication Date





1815 - 1827


Animals, Female, Gene Frequency, Genotype, Male, Microsatellite Repeats, Models, Biological, Mustelidae, Reproduction, United Kingdom