Social behaviour in the Eurasian Badger (Meles meles)
Badgers (Meles meles) inhabit underground setts and are largely nocturnal, making the study of their behaviour extremely difficult. Consequently, there are many unanswered questions regarding the breeding behaviour of badgers. Over much of Britain, badgers live in stable social groups and it is often assumed that there are dominant adults that produce each group´s young. However, more than one female in each group can reproduce and reports based on captive badgers suggest that sometimes a female might steal or even kill another´s young (infanticide). A female has several oestrus cycles per year and any fertilised eggs may undergo delayed implantation so that she has just one litter a year. It is possible therefore that the offspring in one litter are sired by more than one male and even by males from different social groups.
We used genetic markers (microsatellites) to produce a family tree (genealogy) for a well-studied population of badgers in Gloucestershire. Using this we can ask questions to try and understand how badger social groups evolve. For example:
- Do badgers avoid inbreeding?
- Does multiple paternity of litters occur and do extra-group matings occur?
- Is there a dominance hierarchy for breeding in male and female badgers?
There has been considerable recent scientific interest in badgers because they are carriers of bovine tuberculosis (TB). Whilst not proven conclusively, it has been inferred that they act as a wildlife reservoir maintaining the infection in cattle. All aspects of badger biology are important for evaluating the potential cross-infection of TB between badgers and cattle. We used the genealogy that we constructed from our study population to further our understanding of how TB is transmitted between individual badgers.
This project was funded by a PhD studentship from the UK Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food (MAFF), now know as Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) (http://www.defra.gov.uk))
Dr Petra Carpenter (1998-2002)
Co-developers of the microsatellite markers
Carolyn Greig (1994–1997, University of Leicester)
Dr Deborah Dawson (1998–99, University of Leicester & 2002–03, University of Sheffield)
Prof Terry Burke, University of Sheffield
Dr Chris Cheeseman, Dr Lucy Rogers & colleagues, Central Science Laboratory, Woodchester Park, Gloucestershire, UK
Carpenter PJ, Pope LC, Greig C, Dawson DA, Rogers LM, Erven K, Wilson GJ, Delahay RJ, Cheeseman CL, Burke T (2005) Mating system of the Eurasian badger, Meles meles, in a high density population. Molecular Ecology, 14, 273–284.
Carpenter PJ, Dawson DA, Greig C, Parham A, Cheeseman CL, Burke T (2003) Isolation of 39 polymorphic microsatellite loci and the development of a fluorescent marker set for the Eurasian badger (Meles meles) (Carnivora: Mustelidae). Molecular Ecology Notes, 3, 610–615.
Frantz AC, Pope LC, Carpenter PJ, Roper TJ, Wilson GJ, Delahay RJ, Burke T (2003) Reliable microsatellite genotyping of the Eurasian badger (Meles meles) using faecal DNA. Molecular Ecology, 12, 1649–1661.