Ecological genetic studies have demonstrated that spatial patterns of mating dispersal, the dispersal of gametes through mating behaviour, can facilitate inbreeding avoidance and strongly influence the structure of populations, particularly in highly philopatric species. Elements of breeding group dynamics, such as strong structuring and sex-biased dispersal among groups, can also minimize inbreeding and positively influence levels of genetic diversity within populations. Rock-wallabies are highly philopatric mid-sized mammals whose strong dependence on rocky terrain has resulted in series of discreet, small colonies in the landscape. Populations show no signs of inbreeding and maintain high levels of genetic diversity despite strong patterns of limited gene flow within and among colonies.
We used this species to investigate the importance of mating dispersal and breeding group structure to inbreeding avoidance within a ‘small’ population. We examined the spatial patterns of mating dispersal, the extent of kinship within breeding groups, and the degree of relatedness among brush-tailed rock-wallaby breeding pairs within a colony in southeast Queensland. Parentage data revealed remarkably restricted mating dispersal and strong
breeding group structuring for a mid-sized mammal. Breeding groups showed significant levels of female kinship with evidence of male dispersal among groups. We found no evidence for inbreeding avoidance through mate choice; however, anecdotal data suggest the importance of life history traits to inbreeding avoidance between first-degree relatives. We suggest that the restricted pattern of mating dispersal and strong breeding group structuring facilitates inbreeding avoidance within colonies. These results provide insight into the population structure and maintenance of genetic diversity within colonies of the threatened brush-tailed rock-wallaby.