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Information on age- and tactic-related paternity success is essential for understanding the lifetime reproductive strategy of males and constitutes an important component of the fitness trade-offs that shape the life-history traits of a species. The degree of reproductive skew impacts the genetic structure of a population and should be considered when developing conservation strategies for threatened species. The behavior and genetic structure of species with large reproductive skew may be disproportionately impacted by anthropogenic actions affecting reproductively dominant individuals. Our results on age- and tactic-specific paternity success in male African elephants are the first from a free-ranging population and demonstrate that paternity success increases dramatically with age, with the small number of older bulls in the competitive state of musth being the most successful sires. However, nonmusth males sired 20% of genotyped calves, and 60% of mature bulls (>20 years old) were estimated to have sired offspring during the 5-year study period. The 3 most successful males sired less than 20% of the genotyped offspring. Hence, contrary to prediction from behavior and life-history traits, reproduction was not heavily skewed compared with many other mammalian systems with a similar breeding system. Nevertheless, these results indicate that trophy hunting and ivory poaching, both of which target older bulls, may have substantial behavioral and genetic effects on elephant populations. In addition, these results are critical to the current debate on methods for managing and controlling increasing populations of this species. © The Author 2007. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the International Society for Behavioral Ecology. All rights reserved.

Original publication




Journal article


Behavioral Ecology

Publication Date





9 - 15