Mating strategies in dominant meerkats: evidence for extra-pair paternity in relation to genetic relatedness between pair mates

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Rates of extra-pair paternity (EPP) have frequently been associated with genetic relatedness between social mates in socially monogamous birds. However, evidence is limited in mammals. Here, we investigate whether dominant females use divorce or extra-pair paternity as a strategy to avoid the negative effects of inbreeding when paired with a related male in meerkats Suricata suricatta, a species where inbreeding depression is evident for several traits. We show that dominant breeding pairs seldom divorce, but that rates of EPP are associated with genetic similarity between mates. Although extra-pair males are no more distantly related to the female than social males, they are more heterozygous. Nevertheless, extra-pair pups are not more heterozygous than within-pair pups. Whether females benefit from EPP in terms of increased fitness of the offspring, such as enhanced survival or growth, requires further investigations.

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