The influence of predator and conspecific odor on sex differences in path choice in meadow voles
Many terrestrial mammals will choose the path that contains evidence of conspecifics with whom they would like to encounter, such as a potential mate, while avoiding a path that will lead them to encounter a threat, such as a same-sex conspecific or predator. We tested hypotheses about the space use of meadow voles, Microtus pennsylvanicus, in an arena containing a short arm and a long arm that both lead to the bedding of a sexually receptive opposite-sex conspecific. Subjects were tested under three conditions: in an empty arena (experiment 1); in an arena containing the scent mark of a known predator, the mink, Mustela vison (experiment 2); in an arena containing the scent mark of a same-sex conspecific (experiment 3). Male voles placed into an empty arena preferred to take the shorter of two paths to reach the bedding of a sexually receptive female; females did not show a preference in the length of the path to reach the bedding of a sexually receptive male. Male and females showed no preference for the short or the long path to reach the bedding of a potential mate, independent of the placement of the scent mark of a mink in the long or short path. Females and males showed no preference for the short or the long path to reach the bedding of a potential mate, independent of the placement of the scent mark of a same-sex conspecific in the long or short path. Males however, were less likely than females to enter a path if it contained the scent mark of a same-sex conspecific. The paths that male and female voles take to reach an opposite-sex conspecifics may be associated with sex differences their responses to risks of predation and same-sex competition.