Reproductive phenology and conception synchrony in a natural wild boar population
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Dept. of Science for Nature and Environmental Resources, University of Sassari
Wildlife Service, Province of Piacenza
Research Centre for Silviculture, Agriculture Research Council, Arezzo
Publish date: 2015-11-23
Hystrix It. J. Mamm. 2015;26(2):77–84

Reproductive synchrony among gregarious mammals has a strong adaptive value and may lead to cooperative behaviors aimed at maximizing offspring survival. Additionally, temporal clustering of estrus has important implications on individual mating tactics and ultimately affects the degree of polygamy in a population. Although several studies have examined the reproductive biology of wild boar (Sus scrofa), much remains to be understood about the patterns of timing and synchrony of reproduction in natural populations. We analyzed the spatiotemporal distribution of conception dates in an Italian wild boar population taking into account the effects of environmental and individual factors, in order to determine the main variables influencing the timing of reproduction and to detect the signs of a socially-driven reproductive synchrony. Specifically, for each litter belonging to 354 pregnant sows culled between 2006 and 2013 in a mountain area of Tuscany, we determined the conception date (CD) from an estimate of the mean fetal age and the culling date. We then investigated which factors drove the variation in CD, by implementing linear mixed models, Mantel tests and spatial autocorrelation analyses. The selected model showed significant effects of rainfall, temperatures, and previous and current productivity on CD, as well as a strong correlation of CDs among sows culled in close spatial and temporal proximity (i.e., in the same hunting ground and hunting season). Likewise, autocorrelation analyses and Mantel tests consistently indicated that closer sows had similar conception dates. Overall, our results confirm the effect of resource availability and climate on wild boar reproductive phenology, and suggest socially-driven reproductive patterns, in spite of a high turn-over in social groups due to hunting. Finally, possible advantages and evolutionary implications of reproductive synchrony in wild boar are discussed.