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EFFECT OF ODOUR CUES ON THE EXPLORATORY BEHAVIOUR OF FEMALE COMMON VOLES LIVING IN MATRIARCHAL GROUPS

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Seven matriarchal breeding groups of common voles (Microtus arvalis) were studied to test bonding between females when given the option to leave their family group, and the hypothesis that they explore more in areas with odours from related individuals compared to areas scented with odours from unrelated individuals.Young females were observed more frequently in the proximity of their mother and were recorded more often with their sisters than alone. Except for reproductive females, all females were seen more frequently in the initial home area than in areas of exploration. Females frequented an area scented with the odour of related females more often than one with the odour of unrelated, unfamiliar females, but only shortly before dark. In most test groups only the adult females reproduced although their daughters had reached the age of sexual maturity. The results indicate that young female M. arvalis tend to stay with their mother and may delay their own reproduction. When exploring the vicinity of the burrow young females tend to prefer areas with the scent from related females and can recognize odour cues after being separated from the odour donor for 3.5 weeks. This behaviour may minimize aggressive encounters, leading to dispersal toward related individuals.

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