Polyandrous mating in treetops: how male competition and female choice interact to determine an unusual carnivore mating system

Abstract

The diversity of mammalian mating systems is primarily shaped by sex-specific reproductive strategies. In the present study, we explored determinants and consequences of a unique mating system exhibited by fossas (Cryptoprocta ferox), the largest Malagasy carnivore, where females mate polyandrously on traditional mating trees, and males exhibit intrasexual size dimorphism. Males face both contest and scramble competition, and inter-sexual size dimorphism can be pronounced, but its magnitude depends on the male morph. Using a continuous behavioral observation of six estrous females over 4 years, we investigated correlates of male contest competition and female choice based on 316 copulations. Furthermore, we assessed correlates of male scramble competition based on testes size and movement data obtained from GPS tracking. We found that females dominated males regardless of their smaller size and that females actively solicited copulations. Heavy males had highest mating success during the female’s peak mating activity, but were discriminated against afterwards. Female choice and male–male competition thus converged to generate a mating advantage for heavier males. Our results suggest that females actively seek polyandrous matings, presumably for indirect genetic benefits. Since body mass is the major determinant of male mating success and is at the same time dependent on the degree of sociality and associated hunting mode of the respective male morph, a male’s feeding ecology is likely to influence its reproductive tactic. A combination of benefits from female polyandry and the consequences of different subsistence strategies may thus ultimately explain this unusual mating system.

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Acknowledgments

We are grateful to Rémy Ampataka, Tianasoa Andrianjanahary, Nielsen Rabarijaona, and Jean-Pierre Tolojanahary for field assistance. We thank Cornelia Kraus for statistical advice and Melanie Dammhahn for fruitful discussions and helpful comments on the manuscript. We further thank Elise Huchard for veterinary assistance and helpful discussions, Franz Kümmeth from e-obs GmbH for technical support, Léonard Razafimanantsoa, Rodin Rasoloarison, and Heike Klensang for administrative support, and two anonymous reviewers and the Associate Editor for their helpful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. We thank Daniel Rakotondravony from the Département de Biologie Animale de l’Université d’Antananarivo, the Commission Tripartite CAFF, and CNFEREF Morondava for their authorization and support of this study. Funding was provided by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG KA 1082/17-1), the Fossa Fund of Zoo Duisburg AG, and the German Primate Center GmbH (DPZ). All research protocols were approved by the appropriate Animal Use and Care Committees of Germany (Bundesministerium für Naturschutz, BfN) and Madagascar (Ministère de l’Environnement et des Eaux et Forêts, MINEEF).

Ethical standards

This study is in compliance with animal care regulations and applicable national laws of Germany and Madagascar.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Correspondence to Mia-Lana Lührs.

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Communicated by E. Huchard

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Table S1

Overview of spatial data obtained for nine males (M1-M9) (DOC 58 kb)

Table S2

Numbers of successful terminations of mating depending on the body mass class of the mating male and the aggressor (DOC 29 kb)

Table S3

Model outputs (a) determinants of copulation length (LMM)* (DOC 64 kb)

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Lührs, M., Kappeler, P.M. Polyandrous mating in treetops: how male competition and female choice interact to determine an unusual carnivore mating system. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 68, 879–889 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-014-1701-3

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Keywords

  • Polyandry
  • Female choice
  • Male–male competition
  • Mating system
  • Female dominance
  • Cryptoprocta ferox