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Scent-marking by male mice under the risk of predation

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Craig Roberts, Emeritus Professor Morris Gosling


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The use by predators of scent marks made by potential prey is a largely unexplored potential cost of olfactory signaling. Here we investigate how animals that differ in their investment in scent-marking respond to simulated predation risk, by comparing the willingness to approach and counter-mark the scent marks of a competitor in the presence or absence of predator odor. We aimed to test whether animals that invest heavily in scent-marking, and which may thus be more vulnerable to eavesdropping predators, will either (1) take greater risks to counter-mark the competitor's scent or (2) reduce or abandon scent-marking. Using outbred male laboratory mice, Mus musculus, we show that, in the absence of predators, individuals which initially scent-mark at high frequency (high markers) approach the competitor's scent marks more quickly and spend more time in counter-marking than those which initially invest relatively little (low markers). In a sib-sib experimental design, simulated presence of predation risk (urine of ferrets, Mustela putorius furo) caused both kinds of individual to approach the competitor's marks more slowly, but high markers approached more quickly than low markers and spent more time in the vicinity of the competitor's marks. Only high markers significantly reduced their overmarking of the competitor's scent. These results suggest (1) that there is a unique danger inherent to scent-marking at high frequencies and (2) that high-marking males were prepared to accept increased costs of inu-asexual competition in order to reduce the risk of predation. Further tests using the scent of naked mole-rats, Heterocephalus glaber, showed that these effects were not elicited simply by an unfamiliar odor. We discuss reasons for the observed difference in response to predation risk between the groups, and the implications of these results for counter-selection on scent-marking strategies.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Roberts SC, Gosling LM, Thornton EA, McClung J

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Behavioral Ecology

Year: 2001

Volume: 12

Issue: 6

Pages: 698-705

Print publication date: 01/01/2001

ISSN (print): 1045-2249

ISSN (electronic): 1465-7279

Publisher: Oxford University Press


DOI: 10.1093/beheco/12.6.698


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