We used 11 microsatellites, highly variable nuclear markers, to infer kinship among 35 San Joaquin kit foxes,Vulpes macrotis mutica, and combined this information with field observations to gain insight into fox social behavior. Fox social units consisted of solitary foxes, mated male–female pairs, and trios consisting of a mated pair plus another adult. Pair-mates were not closely related. The additional adult (1 male, 1 female) in 2 trios was the offspring of at least 1 of the pair-mates. Foxes living on adjacent home ranges tended to be more closely related than foxes that did not live on adjacent home ranges, largely because females on adjacent home ranges were often closely related. FIS values indicated a deficiency of homozygotes that was likely due to clusters of relatives living on adjacent home ranges. Foxes that shared the same den on the same day were usually members of the same social group. Contrary to expectations, however, we sometimes found foxes sharing dens with foxes from other social groups. Many cases involved unpaired individuals and appeared to be unsuccessful attempts at pair formation. Other cases involved members of 2 adjacent social groups, a pair and a trio. Both members of the pair were closely related to ≥1 member of the trio, indicating that kit foxes can maintain enduring social relationships with adult offspring or siblings that have dispersed to a new home range and found a mate.
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