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Costs of breeding status in the European badger, Meles meles

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Abstract

Compared with other mammals, reproduction is expected to be particularly costly for European badgers (Meles meles L.) since both the gestation and mating periods occur in the winter when the animals are inactive and feed little. This paper assesses the costs of breeding status in both male and female badgers, in terms of body condition, ectoparasite load, haematology and mortality. By the end of the lactation period (May), breeding females had suffered a marked loss in body condition, although there was no such cost associated with gestation. However, females regained the weight that they had lost by the autumn following lactation. Lactating two-year-olds experienced a higher age-specific mortality than those that did not breed, but there was no difference among older females. No costs of breeding status could be detected among males at the end of the spring mating period. However, breeding males sustained testicular activity later into the summer than non-breeders, and by the autumn they had acquired more bite wounds and become anaemic. This suggests that there was a physiological cost associated with extended testicular activity in breeding males.

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