The genetic structure of a free-living tagged population of European wild rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) was investigated for two consecutive years (1990 and 1991) using 10 polymorphic microsatellite loci. A specific social behaviour, the formation of stable breeding groups, influenced the genetic structure of the population. These breeding groups were shown to constitute genetically differentiated units with low levels of gene flow between them. The average relatedness among members of a social group was higher than within the population as a whole. As a result of female philopatry coupled with male-biased natal dispersal, the relatedness of females was higher than that of males, both within social groups and in the whole population. Furthermore, the average relatedness of females within groups was twice the relatedness of females between groups. This study reveals marked fine-scale, intrapopulation genetic structure, which is attributable to the social behaviour of the European wild rabbit.
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