No risk, no gain: effects of crop raiding and genetic diversity on body size in male elephants
Body size is an important influence on the life history of males of polygynous mammals because it is usually highly correlated with fitness and is under intense selection. In this paper, we investigated the effect of high-risk foraging behavior (crop raiding) and genetic heterozygosity on male body size in a well-studied population of African elephants. Crop raiding, the foraging on cultivated food crops by wildlife is one of the main causes of wildlife human conflict and is a major conservation issue for many polygynous mammals that live in proximity to agriculture or human habitation. Body size was estimated using hind foot size, a measure strongly correlated with stature and mass. Crop raiding predicted male size in adulthood, with raiders being larger than nonraiders. However, elephants that became raiders were neither larger nor smaller for age when young. Enhanced growth rates and size among raiders suggest that taking risks pays off for males. Lastly, genetic heterozygosity had no effect on size for age in male elephants, most likely because low-heterozygosity males were rare. Risky foraging behavior can evolve as a result of strong sexual selection for large size and condition-dependent mating success in males. We discuss the implications of these results for managing human--wildlife conflict. Copyright 2011, Oxford University Press.
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Volume (Year): 22 (2011)
Issue (Month): 3 ()
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