PATTERNS OF DISPERSION AND BURROW USE SUPPORT SCRAMBLE COMPETITION POLYGYNY IN GOPHERUS POLYPHEMUS

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Abstract

Gopher tortoises spend most of their time in burrows from which they emerge to forage and perform behaviors such as courtship and mating. Previous literature is divided regarding the mating system of this species; some assert that gopher tortoises conform to female defense polygyny, and others assert that scramble competition polygyny is more likely. Here, telemetry data were used to record the frequency with which pairs of tortoises shared burrows and the frequency with which they apparently chased each other from burrows. Additionally, telemetry locations were used to estimate patterns of dispersion of individuals. If gopher tortoises conformed to female defense polygyny, then males should have: (1) moved frequently to share burrows with females, (2) rarely shared burrows with males, (3) infrequently displaced females from burrows, and (4) frequently displaced males from burrows. Similarly, females should have: (1) infrequently moved to share burrows with either sex, and (2) infrequently chased either sex. Also, females should have shown an aggregated dispersion relative to other females. On the contrary, we found that males moved equally frequently to share burrows with adults of both sexes and chased females from burrows more frequently than they chased other males. Females moved more frequently to share burrows with males than with females and chased males more often than they chased other females. Females did not have an aggregated pattern of dispersion relative to other females. These data were most consistent with scramble competition polygyny.

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