Male reproductive pattern in a polygynous ungulate with a slow life-history: the role of age, social status and alternative mating tactics

Willisch, Christian ; Biebach, Iris ; Koller, Ursina ; Bucher, Thomas ; Marreros, Nelson ; Ryser-Degiorgis, Marie-Pierre ; Keller, Lukas ; Neuhaus, Peter

In: Evolutionary Ecology, 2012, vol. 26, no. 1, p. 187-206

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    According to life-history theory age-dependent investments into reproduction are thought to co-vary with survival and growth of animals. In polygynous species, in which size is an important determinant of reproductive success, male reproduction via alternative mating tactics at young age are consequently expected to be the less frequent in species with higher survival. We tested this hypothesis in male Alpine ibex (Capra ibex), a highly sexually dimorphic mountain ungulate whose males have been reported to exhibit extremely high adult survival rates. Using data from two offspring cohorts in a population in the Swiss Alps, the effects of age, dominance and mating tactic on the likelihood of paternity were inferred within a Bayesian framework. In accordance with our hypothesis, reproductive success in male Alpine ibex was heavily biased towards older, dominant males that monopolized access to receptive females by adopting the ‘tending' tactic, while success among young, subordinate males via the sneaking tactic ‘coursing' was in general low and rare. In addition, we detected a high reproductive skew in male Alpine ibex, suggesting a large opportunity for selection. Compared with other ungulates with higher mortality rates, reproduction among young male Alpine ibex was much lower and more sporadic. Consistent with that, further examinations on the species level indicated that in polygynous ungulates the significance of early reproduction appears to decrease with increasing survival. Overall, this study supports the theory that survival prospects of males modulate the investments into reproduction via alternative mating tactics early in life. In the case of male Alpine ibex, the results indicate that their life-history strategy targets for long life, slow and prolonged growth and late reproduction