Aggression in Columbian ground squirrels: relationships with age, kinship, energy allocation, and fitness

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Matrilineal kin groups are common in social mammals and often exhibit cooperative behaviors. Social interactions in such groups may have varying consequences on fitness depending on the number of kin present. We used social network analysis to study which factors (including individual spatial distribution, sex, age, and kinship) affected patterns of aggressive interactions in Columbian ground squirrels during the important breeding period of lactation. In addition, we studied how patterns of aggressive interactions affected female reproduction and fitness. Received aggressions lessened as ground squirrels aged, likely reflecting greater dominance in older individuals. Outwards aggression peaked at prime reproductive age, but decreased in older individuals. In females, outwards aggressiveness was positively related to energy allocated to reproduction and annual fitness, suggesting that highly aggressive females were either of high intrinsic quality or were able to defend high-quality territories. Finally, female–female aggression was primarily targeted toward non-kin individuals, revealing the advantage for breeding adult females of having close kin neighbors that were also breeding. Thus, breeding females that were close kin appeared to be “genial neighbors” that benefited from increased fitness, highlighting the role of kin selection in mitigating the costs (e.g., injuries, stress) of aggression.

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