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Keywords:

  • emergence mass;
  • growth rate;
  • inbreeding;
  • inbreeding depression;
  • juvenile survival;
  • Suricata suricatta

Abstract

Mating between relatives often results in negative fitness consequences or inbreeding depression. However, the expression of inbreeding in populations of wild cooperative mammals and the effects of environmental, maternal and social factors on inbreeding depression in these systems are currently not well understood. This study uses pedigree-based inbreeding coefficients from a long-term study of meerkats (Suricata suricatta) in South Africa to reveal that 44% of the population have detectably non-zero (> 0) inbreeding coefficients. 15% of these inbred individuals were the result of moderate inbreeding ( 0.125), although such inbreeding events almost solely occurred when mating individuals had no prior experience of each other. Inbreeding depression was evident for a range of traits: pup mass at emergence from the natal burrow, hind-foot length, growth until independence and juvenile survival. However, we found no evidence of significant inbreeding depression for skull and forearm length or for pup survival. This research provides a rare investigation into inbreeding in a cooperative mammal, revealing high levels of inbreeding, considerable negative consequences and complex interactions with the social environment.