Fine-scale population genetic structure in a fission-fusion society.
Nonrandom patterns of mating and dispersal create fine-scale genetic structure in natural populations - especially of social mammals - with important evolutionary and conservation genetic consequences. Such structure is well-characterized for typical mammalian societies; that is, societies where social group composition is stable, dispersal is male-biased, and males form permanent breeding associations in just one or a few social groups over the course of their lives. However, genetic structure is not well understood for social mammals that differ from this pattern, including elephants. In elephant societies, social groups fission and fuse, and males never form permanent breeding associations with female groups. Here, we combine 33 years of behavioural observations with genetic information for 545 African elephants (Loxodonta africana), to investigate how mating and dispersal behaviours structure genetic variation between social groups and across age classes. We found that, like most social mammals, female matrilocality in elephants creates co-ancestry within core social groups and significant genetic differentiation between groups (Phi(ST) = 0.058). However, unlike typical social mammals, male elephants do not bias reproduction towards a limited subset of social groups, and instead breed randomly across the population. As a result, reproductively dominant males mediate gene flow between core groups, which creates cohorts of similar-aged paternal relatives across the population. Because poaching tends to eliminate the oldest elephants from populations, illegal hunting and poaching are likely to erode fine-scale genetic structure. We discuss our results and their evolutionary and conservation genetic implications in the context of other social mammals.
Archie, EA; Maldonado, JE; Hollister-Smith, JA; Poole, JH; Moss, CJ; Fleischer, RC; Alberts, SC
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