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Estimating the relatedness in a population of grey squirrels Sciurus carolinensis, using DNA fingerprinting

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Studies on the behaviour of grey squirrels Sciurus carolinensis Gmelin, 1788 and other species belonging to the same genus, suggest they exhibit dominance hierarchies among both males and females, and their mating strategy is promiscuous or polygynous, However, there is little information available on how dominance translates into repro­ductive success or on the levels of genetic variation or genetic substructuring within a population. To address these questions, we used multilocus DNA fingerprinting to quantify genetic diversity and estimate relatedness amongst individuals in a free­-ranging population of grey squirrels. Background band-sharing values revealed a high degree of genetic diversity existed. The frequency distribution of band-sharing values between known first order relatives and presumed unrelated animals was significantly different. Estimates of relatedness between individuals were therefore based on threshold levels of genetic similarity and used as a tool to infer close kinship. Possible kinship groups were identified using the spatial distribution of the home ranges of adults and juveniles. Levels of relatedness between neighbouring adults was low with five family units identified comprised of putative parents and their offspring. Several juveniles from the single cohort revealed levels of relatedness intermediate between first order relatives and unrelated animals, suggesting possible second order relationships (eg half siblings) existed. The implications of these relationships are discussed.
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