Female southern white rhinoceros can select mates to avoid inbreeding

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Current management models for many endangered species focus primarily on demographic recovery, often ignoring their intrinsic ecological requirements. Across the protected area network of southern Africa, most southern white rhinoceros are managed in populations of less than 50 individuals, experiencing restricted dispersal opportunities, and limited breeding male numbers due to their exclusive home range requirements. In the absence of information on the breeding structure of these populations, poor management decisions may require females to either forego a breeding opportunity or select to inbreed with close relatives. Here, we use a combination of social pedigree data together with genetic analyses to reconstruct the parentage of all 28 offspring produced in a 5-year period in a managed free-ranging southern white rhinoceros population. During this period, all breeding females (founders and first-generation daughters) had access to both a founder male (father to most of the daughters) and two recently introduced inexperienced males. We report that while founder females were more likely to breed with the founder male, their daughters, in contrast, were more likely to breed with the introduced males, thus avoiding inbreeding. However, we also found evidence of father–daughter inbreeding in this population, and contend that in the absence of choice, rather than forego a breeding opportunity, female white rhinoceros will inbreed with their fathers. We argue that to effectively conserve the southern white rhinoceros, managers need to understand the breeding structure of these small populations, particularly in terms of parentage and kinship. Keywords: Ceratotherium simum simum, genetic pedigree analysis, mate choice, microsatellites, population managemen.

Publication Title:

Journal of Heredity

Item Type:
Journal Article

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