Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 64, Issue 5, pp 757–767 | Cite as

Kinship structure and mating system in a solitary subterranean rodent, the silvery mole-rat

  • Hana Patzenhauerová
  • Josef Bryja
  • Radim Šumbera
Original Paper


The African mole-rats (Bathyergidae, Rodentia) are subterranean rodents that have evolved a wide range of social organisations varying from solitary to eusocial. Due to some unusual features of their breeding and social systems, much attention has been focused on social species, with solitary species being virtually ignored. Here, we present the first genetic study on the mating system of any solitary mole-rats, the silvery mole-rat (Heliophobius argenteocinereus) - a species which is assumed to be monogamous. Microsatellite markers were used to analyse the mating system and the kinship structure in populations in southern Malawi. Isolation by distance between individuals was apparent in two studied populations, but not in the third, probably, as a result of barriers limiting dispersal in the latter population. Polygyny was found to be a mating system in this population, where a strongly female-biased adult sex ratio was present. In this case, large distances between the burrow systems of mating partners exclude the possibility of belowground searching for mates, suggesting that the males might seek females aboveground. Interestingly, among analysed litters from various localities, one multiple-sired litter was found. Therefore, the results suggest that the mating system in potentially monogamous solitary subterranean rodents may be much more variable than expected and can differ among populations.


Subterranean rodent Heliophobius Kinship structure Mating system Dispersal 



We are grateful to the GRBC, the Technical Committee of the National Research Council of Malawi, for permission to carry out our research. We thank R. H. Makundi, W. N. Chitaukali, M. Elichová, J. Kubová and J. Šklíba for their assistance during specimen collection, C. Ingram for providing the primer sequences and H. C. Hauffe for linguistic correction. H. C. Hauffe and two anonymous reviewers provided very useful comments on the previous version of the manuscript. This research was partially supported by the grant of the Grant Agency of AS CR (IAA601410802) and the long-term research plan of the University of Southern Bohemia (MSM 6007665801). This work complies with all current laws governing research in the Czech Republic, Malawi and Tanzania.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hana Patzenhauerová
    • 1
  • Josef Bryja
    • 1
  • Radim Šumbera
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Population Biology, Institute of Vertebrate BiologyAcademy of Sciences of the Czech Republic67502 Studenec 122Czech Republic
  2. 2.Department of Zoology, Faculty of ScienceUniversity of South BohemiaČeské BudějoviceCzech Republic

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