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Genetic structure, relatedness and helping behaviour in the yellow mongoose in a farmland and a natural habitat

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The yellow mongoose Cynictis penicillata is a facultatively social species and provides an opportunity to study the evolution of social behaviour. We examined genetic structure, relatedness and helping behaviour in the yellow mongoose in natural habitat in the Kalahari Desert, where the species lives in small family groups of up to four individuals and shows no cooperative breeding; and in farmland in the Western Cape Province of South Africa, where they live in larger groups of up to 13 individuals, engage in numerous social interactions and show cooperative breeding. The farmland population showed significant inbreeding, and lower genetic variability than the desert population, but there was no evidence of a recent population bottleneck. The genetic relatedness between individuals within social groups and that between future potential helpers and pups were higher in the farmland population than in the desert population. However, based on a limited sample, helping effort (in the farmland population) was not preferentially directed towards kin. Thus, the origin of helping in the farmland population is consistent with kin selection, but in the absence of kin discrimination, future research should investigate whether long-term breeding opportunities or group augmentation contribute to maintaining cooperative breeding in this population.

Keywords: Cynictis penicillata; cooperative breeding; desert and farmed habitats; genetic structure; helping behaviour; kin selection; relatedness; yellow mongoose

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Botany and Zoology, Stellenbosch University, Matieland, South Africa 2: Biology and Environmental Science, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK

Publication date: 2009-05-01

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