Sexually mature male bottlenose dolphins in Shark Bay cooperate by pursuing distinct alliance strategies to monopolize females in reproductive condition. We present the results of a comprehensive study in a wild cetacean population to test whether male alliance membership is a prerequisite for reproductive success. We compared two methods for inferring paternity: both calculate a likelihood ratio, called the paternity index, between two opposing hypotheses, but they differ in the way that significance is applied to the data. The first method, a Bayesian approach commonly used in human paternity testing, appeared to be overly conservative for our data set, but would be less susceptible to assumptions if a larger number of microsatellite loci had been used. Using the second approach, the computer program cervus 2.0, we successfully assigned 11 paternities to nine males, and 17 paternities to 14 out of 139 sexually mature males at 95% and 80% confidence levels, respectively. It appears that being a member of a bottlenose dolphin alliance is not a prerequisite for paternity: two paternities were obtained by juvenile males (one at the 95%, the other at the 80% confidence level), suggesting that young males without alliance partners pursue different mating tactics to adults. Likelihood analyses showed that these two juvenile males were significantly more likely to be the true father of the offspring than to be their half-sibling (P < 0.05). Using paternity data at an 80% confidence level, we could show that reproductive success was significantly skewed within at least some stable first-order alliances (P < 0.01). Interestingly, there is powerful evidence that one mating was incestuous, with one calf apparently fathered by its mother's father (P < 0.01). Our study suggests that the reproductive success of both allied males, and of nonallied juveniles, needs to be incorporated into an adaptive framework that seeks to explain alliance formation in male bottlenose dolphins.
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