Polygyny is expected to erode genetic variability by reducing the diversity of genetic contribution of males to the next generation, although empirical evidence shows that genetic variability in polygynous populations is not lost as rapidly as expected. We used microsatellite markers to study the genetic variability transmitted by mothers and fathers to offspring during a reproductive season in wild populations of a polygynous mammal, the red deer. Contrary to expectations, we found that males contributed more genetic diversity than females. Also, we compared study populations with different degrees of polygyny to find that polygyny was not related to a decrease in genetic diversity contributed by males. On the contrary, when population genetic diversity was relatively low, polygyny associated with higher genetic diversity of paternal lineage. Our results show that sexual selection, by favouring heterozygote individuals, may compensate the potential reduction of effective population size caused by polygyny, thus contributing to explain why genetic diversity is not depleted in polygynous systems.
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