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Keywords:

  • cervus;
  • Extra Pair Copulation (EPC);
  • mating system;
  • microsatellites;
  • Mustelidae;
  • reproductive skew

Abstract

The costs and benefits of natal philopatry are central to the formation and maintenance of social groups. Badger groups, thought to form passively according to the resource dispersion hypothesis (RDH), are maintained through natal philopatry and delayed dispersal; however, there is minimal evidence for the functional benefits of such grouping. We assigned parentage to 630 badger cubs from a high-density population in Wytham Woods, Oxford, born between 1988 and 2005. Our methodological approach was different to previous studies; we used 22 microsatellite loci to assign parent pairs, which in combination with sibship inference provided a high parentage assignment rate. We assigned both parents to 331 cubs at ≥ 95% confidence, revealing a polygynandrous mating system with up to five mothers and five fathers within a social group. We estimated that only 27% of adult males and 31% of adult females bred each year, suggesting a cost to group living for both sexes. Any strong motivation or selection to disperse, however, may be reduced because just under half of the paternities were gained by extra-group males, mainly from neighbouring groups, with males displaying a mixture of paternity strategies. We provide the strongest evidence to date for multiple-paternity litters, and for the first time show that within-group and extra-group males can sire cubs in the same litter. We investigate the factors that may play a role in determining the degree of delayed dispersal and conclude that the ecological constraints hypothesis, benefits of philopatry hypothesis, and life history hypothesis may all play a part, as proposed by the broad constraints hypothesis.