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Multiple Paternity in Garter Snakes With Evolutionarily Divergent Life Histories

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Journal of Heredity

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Many animal species exhibit multiple paternity, defined as multiple males genetically contributing to a single female reproductive event, such as a clutch or litter. Although this phenomenon is well documented across a broad range of taxa, the underlying causes and consequences remain poorly understood. For example, it is unclear how multiple paternity correlates with life-history strategies. Furthermore, males and females may differ in mating strategies and these patterns may shift with ecological context and life-history variation. Here, we take advantage of natural life-history variation in garter snakes (Thamnophis elegans) to address these questions in a robust field setting where populations have diverged along a slow-to-fast life-history continuum. We determine both female (observed) and male (using molecular markers) reproductive success in replicate populations of 2 life-history strategies. We find that despite dramatic differences in annual female reproductive output: 1) females of both life-history ecotypes average 1.5 sires per litter and equivalent proportions of multiply-sired litters, whereas 2) males from the slow-living ecotype experience greater reproductive skew and greater variance in reproductive success relative to males from the fast-living ecotype males despite having equivalent average reproductive success. Together, these results indicate strong intrasexual competition among males, particularly in the fast-paced life-history ecotype. We discuss these results in the context of competing hypotheses for multiple paternity related to population density, resource variability, and life-history strategy.

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