Although mammalian mating systems are classically characterized in terms of male competition and polygyny, it is becoming increasingly apparent that alternative male strategies and female choice may play important roles. For example, females who mate with males from a dominant dynasty risk producing inbred offspring. Many pinnipeds are highly polygynous, but in some species alternative male strategies such as aquatic mating appear to be important, even when behavioral observations suggest strong polygyny. Here, we analyze male reproductive success in the Antarctic fur seal Arctocephalus gazella, an otariid described behaviorally as being highly polygynous, by combining a microsatellite paternity analysis spanning seven consecutive breeding seasons with detailed behavioral data on both sexes. Territorial males fathered 59% of 660 pups analyzed from our study colony. Male reproductive skew was considerable, with a quarter of all paternities assigned to just 12 top individuals on a beach where mean annual pup production was 635. Most males were successful for only a single season, but those able to return over successive years enjoyed rapidly increasing success with each additional season of tenure. We found no evidence of alternative male reproductive tactics such as aquatic or sneaky terrestrial mating. However, paternity was strongly influenced by maternal status. Females observed on the beach without a pup were significantly less likely to conceive to a sampled territorial male than equivalent females that did pup. In addition, their pups carried combinations of paternal alleles that were less likely to be found on the study beach and exhibited lower levels of shared paternity. Thus, from a territorial male's perspective, not all females offer equal opportunities for fertilization.
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Vol. 57 • No. 8