Parentage, reproductive success and breeding behaviour in the greater horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum)

Stephen J. Rossiter, Gareth Jones, Roger D. Ransome, Elizabeth M. Barratt


Female greater horseshoe bats form maternity colonies each summer in order to give birth and raise young. During the mating period, females visit males occupying territorial sites, copulation takes place and sperm are stored until ovulation occurs, normally in April. Using microsatellite markers and a likelihood method of parentage analysis, we studied breeding behaviour and male reproductive success over a five–year period in a population of bats in south–west Britain. Paternity was assigned with 80% confidence to 44% of young born in five successive cohorts. While a small annual skew in male reproductive success was detected, the variance increased over five years due to the repeated success of a few individuals. Mating was polygynous, although some females gave birth to offspring sired by the same male in separate years. Such repeated partnerships probably result from fidelity for either mating sites or individuals or from sperm competition. Females mated with males born both within and outside their own natal colony; however, relatedness between parents was no less than the average recorded for male–female pairs. Gene flow between colonies is likely to be primarily mediated by both female and male dispersal during the mating period rather than more permanent movements.

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