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Keywords:

  • hoary marmot;
  • Marmota caligata;
  • mating system;
  • microsatellites;
  • parentage;
  • social structure

Abstract

Mate-choice theory predicts different optimal mating systems depending on resource availability and habitat stability. Regions with limited resources are thought to promote monogamy. We tested predictions of monogamy in a social rodent, the hoary marmot (Marmota caligata), at the northern climatic extreme of its distribution. Mating systems, social structure and genetic relationships were investigated within and among neighbouring colonies of marmots within a 4 km2 valley near Kluane National Park, Yukon, Canada, using 21 microsatellite loci. While both monogamous and polygynous populations of hoary marmots have been observed in the southern reaches of this species’ range; northern populations of this species are thought to be predominantly monogamous. Contrary to previous studies, we did not find northern hoary marmot social groups to be predominantly monogamous; rather, the mating system seemed to be facultative, varying between monogamy and polygyny within, as well as among, social groups. These findings reveal that the mating systems within colonies of this species are more flexible than previously thought, potentially reflecting local variation in resource availability.