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Keywords:

  • carnivore;
  • polyandry;
  • sexual conflict;
  • Madagascar

Abstract

The mating strategies of male mammals have long been treated as broadly predictable on the basis of just two factors: the dispersion of females and the benefit of paternal care to male reproductive success. Female strategies and finer scale variations in mating systems remain poorly understood. In the fossa Cryptoprocta ferox, we had the rare opportunity to examine the mating system of a wild solitary carnivore directly, and identified features not classified or predicted by mating system theory. Males competed for mating opportunities at a traditional site monopolized by a female, high in a tree. The female mated with multiple males, repeatedly mated with some individuals and appeared to express mate choice. We observed three females thus, one replacing another on the site after each was seen to mate with four to five males over a period of 1–6 days. Copulations were prolonged (up to 3 h 8 min), involving a weak copulatory tie, and males appeared to guard females briefly after mating. Fossas are at low population density and do not use a den regularly; we suggest that both these factors impede individuals from locating a mate. We hypothesize that the observed mating system reduces this problem for both sexes, and increases the number of mates available to a female while ensuring a low risk of sexual harassment.