Mating order and reproductive success in male Columbian ground squirrels (Urocitellus columbianus)


Shirley Raveh, Dik Heg, F. Steven Dobson, David W. Coltman, Jamieson C. Gorell, Adele Balmer and Peter Neuhaus


Behavioral Ecology 21(3):537-547; 2010


Multiple mating by females is common in many mammalian species, often resulting in mixed paternity litters. In such mating systems, mating order, male age, and male body mass frequently play an important role in determining male reproductive success. We tested for these effects on male reproductive success in Columbian ground squirrels (Urocitellus columbianus). The mating activity of estrous females was observed, and the occurrence of sperm precedence was tested using microsatellites to determine paternity in a total of 147 litters (434 offspring), including 110 litters (334 offspring) where the mating position of individual males was determined. Females mated with up to 8 males per litter, whereas paternity analyses revealed that only the first 5 males to mate actually sired offspring. The number of offspring sired significantly decreased with position in the mating sequence, showing a strong first male advantage. The extent of this advantage diminished with an increasing number of male mating partners, indicating that sperm competition plays an important role. A male's position in the females' mating sequences was not consistent within and across seasons, suggesting that individual males did not follow distinct reproductive strategies. Rather, males of intermediate age were more successful than young and old males, when corrected for age effects; heavier males were more likely to mate first. We conclude that males gain the largest part of their seasonal reproductive output from mating first with a female due to a pronounced first male advantage but gain considerable additional fitness from mating with additional, already mated females.