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Proc Biol Sci. 2007 Jul 7;274(1618):1603-9.

Subordinate male meerkats prospect for extra-group paternity: alternative reproductive tactics in a cooperative mammal.

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Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge, UK.


In cooperatively breeding species, subordinates typically suffer strong constraints on within-group reproduction. While numerous studies have highlighted the additional fitness benefits that subordinates might accrue through helping, few have considered the possibility that subordinates may also seek extra-group matings to improve their chances of actually breeding. Here, we show that subordinate males in cooperative meerkat, Suricata suricatta, societies conduct frequent extraterritorial forays, during periods of peak female fertility, which give rise to matings with females in other groups. Genetic analyses reveal that extra-group paternity (EGP) accrued while prospecting contributes substantially to the reproductive success of subordinates: yielding the majority of their offspring (approx. 70%); significantly reducing their age at first reproduction and allowing them to breed without dispersing. We estimate that prospecting subordinates sire 20-25% of all young in the population. While recent studies on cooperative birds indicate that dominant males accrue the majority of EGP, our findings reveal that EGP can also arise from alternative reproductive tactics employed exclusively by subordinates. It is important, therefore, that future attempts to estimate the fitness of subordinate males in animal societies quantify the distribution of extra-group as well as within-group paternity, because a substantial proportion of the reproductive success of subordinates may otherwise go undetected.

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