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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 1992 Dec 29;338(1286):393-407.

To breed or not to breed: an analysis of the social and density-dependent constraints on the fecundity of female badgers (Meles meles).

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Department of Zoology, University of Bristol, U.K.


Data from post-mortem examinations, population density estimates and long term capture-mark-recapture studies have been combined to look at the pattern of reproductive behaviour and the social factors leading to reproductive failure in badgers in Britain. The results are used to evaluate whether the hypothesis that the defence of oestrous females (as opposed to defence of food resources) best explains territorial behaviour and the social organization of badgers. Badgers in Britain have two peaks of reproductive activity, one immediately post partum and one in the summer/autumn. These coincide with two peaks of ovulation, and in the late winter/spring there is a steep rise in the number of sows carrying blastocysts, to reach an asymptote in June for yearling sows and April in older sows. Measured by their contribution to overall productivity, winter/spring matings were much more important than summer/autumn matings, contributing 65% of total autumn blastocysts in yearling sows and 71% of autumn blastocysts in older sows. The relative importance of the two mating periods is reflected in the seasonal pattern of bite wounding in adult male badgers; minor bite wounding in January-March was 2.3 times as frequent as in August-October, and moderate-extensive bite wounding was 3.1 times more frequent. In the populations studied, pre- and post-natal losses were high, with reproductive failure occurring at all stages of the breeding cycle, so that less than 30% of potential productivity was achieved. Indeed 22% of sows failed to develop blastocysts; these had a lower body mass, less body fat, larger adrenal glands, poorer health and higher bite wound scores than sows with blastocysts. Only 44% of adult sows implanted their blastocysts and proceeded to the end of pregnancy. However, it was less easy to identify features characteristic of sows that did or did not go on to implant their blastocysts. Finally, 35% of sows that produced cubs ceased lactation early, and this loss of entire litters was thought to be due to infanticide by dominant sows. The presence of annexe setts correlates with increased productivity in younger sows, and this is thought to be because annexe setts enable younger sows and their cubs to avoid the aggression of older, more dominant sows. Living in large social groups has no net reproductive gain for adult males or females, and there was a decline in productivity (per adult) with increasing group size.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS).

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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