Warthogs, Phacochoerus africanus, are an unusual ungulate. They are facultative cooperative breeders where females within the same population display both solitary and cooperative reproductive strategies. Warthogs require burrows for sleeping and rearing their young, yet they are unable to dig their own burrows and rely on aardvark excavations. Studies of warthogs have failed to show any reproductive benefits to females participating in communal care and suggest a reproductive cost to cooperation. The ecological constraints hypothesis proposes that environmental factors limit an individual's ability to successfully disperse and reproduce. In this study we investigated whether limitations in burrow sites can explain cooperative breeding in this species. We checked over 500 burrows for signs of use systematically for 1 year to determine whether burrows were a limiting resource and to investigate burrow use preferences. Our methodology allowed us to determine whether burrows were used by adults with young or by adults without young. We found that burrow availability did not appear to pose an ecological constraint on independent living, as the percentage of burrows used remained relatively low throughout the year. Additionally, the number of burrows in a warthog clan area did not influence the percentage of females breeding cooperatively. Predator avoidance appeared to be the main factor influencing individual burrow selection by warthogs and communal nesting may best be explained as a form of antipredator behaviour.
Keywords: common warthog; communal nesting; cooperative breeding; ecological constraints; habitat choice; Phacochoerus africanus; reproductive strategies; site selection; sociality
common warthog; communal nesting; cooperative breeding; ecological constraints; habitat choice; Phacochoerus africanus; reproductive strategies; site selection; sociality