Does soil type drive social organization in southern hairy-nosed wombats?

Faith Marguerite Walker, Andrea Carolyn Taylor, Paul Sunnucks

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31 Citations (Scopus)


Spatiotemporal distributions of key resources are hypothesized to underpin sociobiological patterns. Burrow availability and quality is of paramount importance to fossorial animals. The southern hairy-nosed wombat (Lasiorhinus latifrons) burrows in both hard and friable soils. Theoretical and empirical studies suggest that the harder substrate should promote closer geographical clustering of burrows than in softer soils. Clustered burrows are expected to be associated with larger group sizes. If sociality is driven by constraint rather than advantage, patterns of spatial and temporal distribution of animals within and among groups may show indications of avoidance or even antagonism, and making the best of a bad job via positive kin associations to offset the disadvantages of high-density living. To test these ideas, we compared warren relatedness and social structure of L. latifrons on friable soils (Nullarbor Plain) and hard calcrete (Brookfield Conservation Park, BCP). Individuals were sampled by noninvasive collection of hairs for genotyping to identify individuals and to estimate their space-use and associative behaviour with respect to relatedness. Burrows in calcrete were indeed more clumped, and warren and group size larger. Differences in spatiotemporal organization and relatedness structure between sites were in the expected direction: (i) Nullarbor males associated and shared warrens less than at BCP; and (ii) Nullarbor spatial relatedness patterning data were not consistent with proposed female breeding dispersal, in contrast to those at BCP. Under Nullarbor (low density) conditions, cooperation or tolerance between males may be less advantageous, and accessing or digging burrows should be less of a constraint for juvenile females.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)199 - 208
Number of pages10
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2007

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