Life Lines

Those two-timing foxes

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Image:Canadian Museum of Nature

Well, the paternity tests are in and the results are not looking very good. It turns out that arctic foxes are not monogamous after all. When resources are abundant, populations of breeding pairs expand and the female arctic foxes mate with other males, cheating on their partner. In fact, researchers have found that with abundant food (in this case geese) up to 31% of the pups in a population were the result of extra-pair relations. They hypothesize this genetic flow is important for maintaining genetic diversity.

Source:
C Camerona, D Berteauxa, F Dufresneb. Spatial variation in food availability predicts extrapair paternity in the arctic fox. Behavioral Ecology. 22 (6): 1364-1373, 2011.

Comments

  1. #1 Hmmm...
    November 10, 2011

    There’s a bit of a disconnect between your title and second line and the research and rest of your post.

  2. #2 Anton Mates
    November 10, 2011

    They cheat so hard they end up changing species, apparently!

  3. #3 Dr. Dolittle
    November 11, 2011

    Ooops! Thank you for catching that! Never attempt writing a blog about foxes in the middle of an exciting TV show about wolves.

  4. #4 Luna_the_cat
    November 11, 2011

    LOL @ Anton

    …But yes — what species ARE we discussing, here? Seems like wolves have nowt to do with this. And I was never under the impression that foxes mated monogamously or exclusively, anyway!

  5. #5 Calli Arcale
    November 15, 2011

    When resources are abundant, populations of breeding pairs expand and the female arctic foxes mate with other males, cheating on their partner.

    This kind of thing always bothered me. Whenever there’s a scientific finding that some species isn’t as monogamous as we thought, not only do we use the word “cheating” (which, to me, seems to be a little presumptuous when we’ve never even sat down and had a nice conversation with the animals, never mind asked them their marital status) but we say that it’s the *females* who are cheating, when logically, males have to be cheating too (unless there is a massive sex imbalance, and there are a lot of loner males out there — at least enough to father 31% of the offspring).

    Now, I realize this is mostly because the babies hang with the mom, and get raised in that family group (assuming there is one in a particular species), so parental relationships are interpreted in that light. But still, they talk about the ladies cheating, rather than describing it as a matrilineal, polyandrous situation. When those words would be just as accurate.

    My pulled-out-of-thin-air theory is that this is because all humans have a secret prediliction for soap operas, and consequently find the “cheating spouse” language more appealing. ;-)

  6. #6 kamion
    November 20, 2011

    with about 90% of the mammals ( not excluding human) having the males letting the females do all the donkeywork of raiding the young one can hardly speak of the females “cheating”
    it’s an attitude of males thinking that just delivering their sperm is about 90% of getting offspring.