Mate fidelity and intra-lineage polygyny in greater horseshoe bats


Mating strategies that lead to increased kinship within socially cooperative groups may offer inclusive fitness benefits to individuals1,2,3, but can also result in higher levels of inbreeding4,5,6. Here we show in a sexually segregated bat species that females avoid this conflict through two mating behaviours. First, most females revisit and breed with specific, individual males across years, so that their single offspring born in different years are full siblings. Second, relatives in the maternal line, including mothers and daughters, share breeding partners (intra-lineage polygyny) more often than expected by chance. Although these behaviours increased levels of co-ancestry among colony members, there was no concomitant rise in inbreeding. We suggest that when females engage in mate fidelity and intra-lineage polygyny, kin ties among female roost mates will be strengthened, thereby potentially contributing to social group cohesiveness. Our findings reveal the hidden complexity that can underlie polygynous breeding, and highlight a new potential route by which female mate choice could influence social evolution.

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Figure 1: Pedigree illustrating mate fidelity by female 9675.
Figure 2: Pedigree illustrating intra-lineage polygyny in matriline 8386.


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We thank the Woodchester Mansion Trust for access to the roost and the many volunteers who helped with data collection. We thank T. Burland, D. Dawson, B. Manley, C. Mein and R. Nichols for advice and technical support, and A. Bourke, A. Hildrew, R. Nichols, A. Overall, D. Polly and F. Ratnieks for helpful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. Bats were caught and sampled under license from English Nature and the Home Office. This work was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), and microsatellite development was supported by the NERC Sheffield Molecular Genetics Facility. Author Contributions S.J.R. conceived the project with G.J., undertook the laboratory work and wrote the paper. R.D.R. undertook most of the fieldwork with help from G.J. S.J.R. and C.G.F. jointly analysed the pedigree and genetic data, and S.L.C. wrote the computer programs to implement the randomizations and statistical tests.

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Correspondence to Stephen J. Rossiter.

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Randomisation tests and power analysis. (RTF 7 kb)

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Rossiter, S., Ransome, R., Faulkes, C. et al. Mate fidelity and intra-lineage polygyny in greater horseshoe bats. Nature 437, 408–411 (2005).

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