Enhancement of reproductive success through mate choice in a social rock-wallaby, Petrogale assimilis (Macropodidae) as revealed by microsatellite markers
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The reason why a female who is socially paired to one particular male seeks extra-pair copulations (EPCs) with others has important implications in life history models and to the study of behaviour. The Allied rock-wallaby, Petrogale assimilis, lives in spatially isolated colonies in tropical north Queensland, Australia. Extensive observations of a colony at Black Rock showed that intense behavioural bonding occurs between pairs of adult males and females; about two-thirds of males paired with one female, the remainder paired with two females simultaneously. Single-locus microsatellite profiling determined the paternity of 63 offspring from 21 females for which long-term behavioural data were available. One-third of the young were fathered by males which were not paired socially with the mother. The mating system was heterogeneous: (1) all offspring of 11 females were fathered by the mother's partner, (2) all young of 5 females were fathered by extra-pair males, and (3) only some of the young of 5 females were fathered by their regular consort. Analysis of individual longitudinal demographic records showed that females whose young were always fathered by their consort had higher reproductive success than those whose young were always fathered as a result of (EPCs). However, females with some offspring fathered by their regular consort and others via EPCs had the highest probability of raising young to independence. These females were significantly more likely to have an offspring fathered as a result of an EPC if their previous young had failed to survive to pouch emergence. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that females choose mates for their genetic quality. Comparison of the males with which these females sought EPCs and the regular consorts suggested that arm length rather than body weight or testes size was used as the index of genetic quality. Results from a second colony of rock-wallabies in which the reproductive rate was accelerated were also consistent with the genetic-quality hypothesis. These results imply that by choosing better-quality fathers irrespective of social pairing, females are able to maximise their overall lifetime reproductive success, and presumably, those of their offspring.
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