Date of this Version
Wildlife Research, 2010, 37, 539–546; DOI: 10.1071/WR10052
Context. Feral pigs represent a significant threat to agriculture and ecosystems and are disease reservoirs for pathogens affecting humans, livestock and other wildlife. Information on the behavioural ecology of feral pigs might increase the efficiency and effectiveness of management strategies.
Aims. We assessed the frequency of promiscuous mating in relation to oestrous synchrony in feral pigs from southern Texas, USA, an agroecosystem with a widespread and well established population of feral pigs. An association between multiple paternity of single litters and synchrony of oestrous may indicate alternative mating strategies, such as mateguarding.
Methods. We collected gravid sows at nine sites in southern Texas during 2005–07. We used a panel of DNA microsatellite markers to estimate frequency of multiple paternity and the distribution of male mating among litters of feral pigs. Conception dates were determined by fitting average fetal crown–rump measurements within litters to expected fetal development relative to gestation time.
Key results. We found evidence of multiple paternity in 21 of 64 litters (33%) from seven of nine sites sampled. Synchrony of oestrous did not influence promiscuous mating, as we found multiple paternity at sites with synchronous and asynchronous oestrous. Males sired from 8 to 11 offspring at three sites where >10 litters were sampled. Mean litter size (5.4) was less than the best-fit value for the number of offspring, indicating that some males sired offspring with ≥2 females.
Key conclusions. Feral pigs in Texas appear to be promiscuous under a range of demographic conditions, unlike wild boar and feral pigs in other regions. The ecological and behavioural factors affecting multiple paternity are not clear, but may include male–male competition, harassment avoidance, genetic benefits for offspring, response to macro-habitat conditions, or selection.
Implications. A high incidence of sexual contact among individuals may increase the opportunity for diseases transmitted by oral or venereal routes, such as swine brucellosis and pseudorabies. In addition, fertility-control methods targeting males only are likely to be inefficient if female promiscuity is high; methods targeting females or both sexes jointly may be more effective.