Male reproductive success in free-ranging feral horses
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- Asa, C. Behav Ecol Sociobiol (1999) 47: 89. doi:10.1007/s002650050653
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In the social organization of feral horses, adult males compete to monopolize groups or bands of females, sometimes called harems. Alternative male strategies are to remain alone or with other bachelors or, less commonly, to accept subordinate status within a harem. The hypothesis that dominant harem stallion status confers a reproductive advantage was tested in free-ranging feral horses. The presence of foals in harems headed by vasectomized (VSX) versus intact stallions was used to assess the ability of these stallions to control reproduction in their harems. Of harems headed by VSX stallions, 17 and 33% contained foals during years 2 and 3 post-treatment, respectively. In contrast, 86 and 80% of harems headed by non-VSX stallions contained foals in those years. Acquisition of pregnant mares appeared more likely than sneak copulations by bachelor stallions to account for foals in harems with a single stallion. However, most foals were born into harems that included a subordinate stallion, an occurrence that was undoubtedly exacerbated by the extended breeding season resulting from the sterility of the harem stallion. Thus, in comparing alternative reproductive tactics, bachelors appeared less successful than subordinate stallions within a harem. However, the highest reproductive success was achieved by the harem stallion, further demonstrating that alternative tactics are not equally profitable.