Multiple paternity and precocial breeding in wild Tasmanian devils, Sarcophilus harrisii (Marsupialia: Dasyuridae)
Polyandry, a common reproductive strategy in various animal species, has potential female benefits, which include enhanced offspring fitness. Benefits can be direct, such as reduced risk of male infanticide of offspring, or indirect, such as increased genetic diversity of offspring and the acquisition of 'good genes'. Multiple paternity of litters has been recorded in numerous marsupial species but has not been reported in Tasmanian devils, Sarcophilus harrisii (Boitard). We investigated whether multiple paternity occurred in litters within a wild population of Tasmanian devils. Using major histocompatibility complex-linked and neutral microsatellite markers, the paternity of nine litters was analysed. We found multiple paternity in four out of nine litters and that yearling (> 1, < 2 years old) male devils were siring offspring. This is the first record of multiple paternity and of male precocial breeding in wild Tasmanian devils. To date, there are no data relating to the subsequent survival of devils from single- vs. multiple-sired litters; therefore, we do not know whether multiple paternity increases offspring survival in the wild. These results have implications for the Tasmanian devil captive insurance programme, because group housing can lead to multiple-sired litters, making the maintenance of genetic diversity over time difficult to manage.