Despite being identified an area that is poorly understood regarding the effects of climate change, behavioural responses to climatic variability are seldom explored. Climatic variability is likely to cause large inter-annual variation in the frequency of extra-pair litters produced, a widespread alternative mating tactic to help prevent, correct or minimize the negative consequences of sub-optimal mate choice. In this study, we investigated how climatic variability affects the inter-annual variation in the proportion of extra-pair litters in a wild population of Alpine marmots. During 22 years of monitoring, the annual proportion of extra-pair litters directly increased with the onset of earlier springs and indirectly with increased snow in winters. Snowier winters resulted in a higher proportion of families with sexually mature male subordinates and thus, created a social context within which extra-pair paternity was favoured. Earlier spring snowmelt could create this pattern by relaxing energetic, movement and time constraints. Further, deeper snow in winter could also contribute by increasing litter size and juvenile survival. Optimal mate choice is particularly relevant to generate adaptive genetic diversity. Understanding the influence of environmental conditions and the capacity of the individuals to cope with them is crucial within the context of rapid climate change.
Electronic supplementary material is available online at https://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.3593738.
- Received October 13, 2016.
- Accepted November 18, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.