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Manipulation of olfactory signaling and mate choice for conservation breeding: A case study of harvest mice

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


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Mate choice by females can introduce difficulties to captive breeding programs because there may be a conflict between the conservation manager's choice of mate (based on random allocation or maximizing heterogeneity) and the females' own preferences, often resulting in incompatibility and aggression. Similar effects are caused by inappropriate social contexts at the time of pairing. We manipulated the social experience of male and female harvest mice (Micromys minutus) to investigate whether we could enhance compatibility between randomly allocated mates by altering female preferences. In one experiment, we used a choice test to identify female preferences between two males and then varied the competitive context of unpreferred males by transferring competitor's scent marks into their cages. The manipulation caused them to increase their investment in a form of olfactory signaling (scent marking), which female rodents use as an indicator of male quality when choosing mates. The manipulation increased their attractiveness relative to the initially preferred male when the choice test was repeated. In a second experiment, we tested the effect of females' familiarity with the odor of males by transfer of male scent marks to female cages. Females preferred familiar males in choice tests and were less aggressive toward them when pairs were introduced than females paired with unfamiliar males. This kind of approach can influence mate choice, and transferring scent marks between cages or collections is an effective and practical behavioral means of improving success in conservation breeding programs.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Roberts SC, Gosling LM

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Conservation Biology

Year: 2004

Volume: 18

Issue: 2

Pages: 548-556

ISSN (print): 0888-8892

ISSN (electronic): 1523-1739

Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell


DOI: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2004.00514.x


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