A molecular genetic analysis of social structure, dispersal, and interpack relationships of the African wild dog (Lycaon pictus )
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The African wild dog is a highly social, pack-living predator of the African woodland and savannah. The archetypal wild dog pack consists of a single dominant breeding pair, their offspring, and non-breeding adults who are either offspring or siblings of one of the breeding pair. Non-breeding adults cooperate in hunting, provisioning and the protection of young. From these observations follows the prediction that the genetic structure of wild dogs packs should resemble that of a multigenerational family, with all same-sexed adults and offspring within a pack related as sibs or half-sibs. Additionally, a higher kinship between females from neighboring packs should be evident if females tend to have small dispersal distances relative to males. We test these predictions through analysis of mitochondrial DNA control region sequences and 14 microsatellite loci in nine wild dog packs from Kruger National Park, Republic of South Africa. We show that as predicted, African wild dog packs generally consist of an unrelated alpha male and female, subdominant close relatives, and offspring of the breeding pair. Sub-dominant wild dogs occasionally reproduce but their offspring rarely survive to 1 year of age. Relatedness influences the timing and location of dispersal events as dispersal events frequently coincide with a change in pack dominance hierarchy and dispersers often move to areas with a high proportion of close relatives.
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