Mother knows best: dominant females determine offspring dispersal in red foxes (Vulpes vulpes)

HM Whiteside, DA Dawson, CD Soulsbury, S Harris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Relatedness between group members is central to understanding the causes of animal dispersal. In many group-living mammals this can be complicated as extra-pair copulations result in offspring having varying levels of relatedness to the dominant animals, leading to a potential conflict between male and female dominants over offspring dispersal strategies. To avoid resource competition and inbreeding, dominant males might be expected to evict unrelated males and related females, whereas the reverse strategy would be expected for dominant females. Methodology/Principal Findings: We used microsatellites and long-term data from an urban fox (Vulpes vulpes) population to compare dispersal strategies between offspring with intra- and extra-group fathers and mothers of differing social status in red foxes. Relatedness to the dominant male had no effect on dispersal in offspring of either sex, whereas there was a strong effect of relatedness to resident females on offspring dispersal independent of population density. Males with dominant mothers dispersed significantly more often than males with subordinate mothers, whereas dispersing females were significantly more likely to have subordinate mothers compared to philopatric females. Conclusions/Significance: This is the first study to demonstrate that relatedness to resident females is important in juvenile dispersal in group-living mammals. Male dispersal may be driven by inbreeding avoidance, whereas female dispersal appears to be influenced by the fitness advantages associated with residing with the same-sex dominant parent. Selection pressure for paternal influence on offspring dispersal is low due to the limited costs associated with retaining unrelated males and the need for alternative inbreeding avoidance mechanisms between the dominant male and his female offspring. These findings have important implications for the evolution of dispersal and group living in social mammals, and our understanding of a key biological process.
Translated title of the contributionMother knows best: dominant females determine offspring dispersal in red foxes (Vulpes vulpes)
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e22145 - e22145
Number of pages7
JournalPLoS ONE
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2011


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