Noninvasive genetic sampling reveals intrasex territoriality in wolverines

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Due to its conspicuous manifestations and its capacity to shape the configuration and dynamics of wild populations, territorial behavior has long intrigued ecologists. Territoriality and other animal interactions in situ have traditionally been studied via direct observations and telemetry. Here, we explore whether noninvasive genetic sampling, which is increasingly supplementing traditional field methods in ecological research, can reveal territorial behavior in an elusive carnivore, the wolverine (Gulo gulo). Using the locations of genotyped wolverine scat samples collected annually over a period of 12 years in central Norway, we test three predictions: (1) male home ranges constructed from noninvasive genetic sampling data are larger than those of females, (2) individuals avoid areas used by other conspecifics of the same sex (intrasexual territoriality), and (3) avoidance of same-sex territories diminishes or disappears after the territory owner's death. Each of these predictions is substantiated by our results: sex-specific differences in home range size and intrasexual territoriality in wolverine are patently reflected in the spatial and temporal configuration of noninvasively collected genetic samples. Our study confirms that wildlife monitoring programs can utilize the spatial information in noninvasive genetic sampling data to detect and quantify home ranges and social organization.