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Proc Biol Sci. 2003 Mar 7;270(1514):497-502.

Contrasting relatedness patterns in bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops sp.) with different alliance strategies.

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  • 1School of Biological, Earth, and Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales, Sydney NSW 2052, Australia.


Male bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops sp.) in Shark Bay have one of the most complex male societies outside humans. Two broad mating strategies have been identified in males. In the first strategy, there are two types of alliances: stable 'first-order' pairs and trios that herd individual females in reproductive condition, and 'second-order' teams of two first-order alliances (five or six individuals) that join forces against rivals in contests for females. In the alternative strategy, a 'super-alliance' of ca. 14 individuals, males form pairs or trios to herd females, but in contrast to the stable alliances, these pairs and trios are highly labile. Here, we show that males in stable first-order alliances and the derived second-order alliances are often strongly related, so that they may gain inclusive fitness benefits from alliance membership. By contrast, members of the super-alliance are no more closely related than expected by chance. Further, the strength of the association of alliance partners within the super-alliance, as measured by an index of joint participation in consorting a female, was not correlated with their genetic relatedness. Thus, within one population and one sex, it appears that there may be simultaneous operation of more than one mode of group formation.

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