Molecular Documentation of Polyembryony and the Micro-Spatial Dispersion of Clonal Sibships in the Nine-Banded Armadillo, Dasypus novemcinctus

Paulo A. Prodohl, W. J. Loughry, Colleen M. Mcdonough, William S. Nelson, John C. Avise

Abstract

A battery of allelic markers at highly polymorphic microsatellite loci was developed and employed to confirm, genetically, the clonal nature of sibships in nine-banded armadillos. This phenomenon of consistent polyembryony, otherwise nearly unknown among the vertebrates, was capitalized upon to describe the micro-spatial distributions of numerous clonal sibships in a natural population of armadillos. Adult clone mates were significantly more dispersed than were juvenile sibs, suggesting limited opportunities for altruistic behavioural interactions among mature individuals. These results, and considerations of armadillo natural history, suggest that evolutionary explanations for polyembryony in this species may not reside in the kinds of ecological and kin selection theories relevant to some of the polyembryonic invertebrates. Rather, polyembryony in armadillos may be associated evolutionarily with other reproductive peculiarities of the species, including delayed uterine implantation of a single egg.