Ground-dwelling sciurids exhibit a continuum of sociality and several models predict levels of sociality within this taxon. Models of ground squirrel sociality predict round-tailed ground squirrels (Xerospermophilus tereticaudus) to be solitary; however, previous behavioral studies suggest round-tailed ground squirrels have a matrilineal social structure. To resolve this discrepancy, we combined behavioral observations with genetic analyses of population structure. We assessed levels of agonistic and amicable behaviors combined with fine-scale population genetic structure of round-tailed ground squirrels in a multi-year study in AZ. Only 45 agonistic and 40 amicable interactions were observed between adults in over 137 h of observations. Overall rates of agonistic or amicable interactions between adults were low (≤0.69/h), with no relationship between relatedness of individuals and rates of either amicable or agonistic interactions. Interactions between juvenile littermates were predominantly amicable. Population substructure was not evident with Bayesian analyses, global or pairwise F ST values; average relatedness among females was not different from males. However, in 2006, the year after a population reduction through targeted animal elimination, a population bottleneck was detected within at least five of seven loci. Contrary to previous behavioral studies, this population of round-tailed ground squirrels, although aggregated spatially, did not exhibit high levels of social behavior nor subpopulation genetic structure. Analyses of the genetic relationships and sociality along a continuum, particularly within aggregates of individuals, may lead to insights into the origin and maintenance of social behaviors by elucidating the mechanisms by which aggregates with intermediate social levels are formed and maintained.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Animal Science and Zoology