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Partnerships in the social system of a small macropod marsupial, the quokka (Setonix brachyurus)

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We detail the social behaviour of the quokka, a small macropod marsupial. Most of the study population were habituated to humans, and were individually marked, and weighed regularly. Males formed a dominance hierarchy and interacted regularly. Heavier males were the most dominant, and spent most time with females. There was a tendency for males to defend a female after mating, but not at other times. Females rarely initiated interactions and appeared to avoid associating with other females. Males routinely attempted to form liaisons with females, but most liaisons lasted for <10 min. Consistency in the liaisons formed indicated partner preferences ('consorts'), and these lasted at least two breeding seasons. Females formed a consort with 1–3 males and rejected non-consort males. Males formed consorts with 1–5 females, regardless of their dominance, and approached many other females. Superficially, quokkas have a typically mammalian social system in which males compete with other males for access to females and females are selective of their mates. However, the social system of quokkas is characterized by subtlety in social relationships which required detailed information on known individuals over at least two breeding seasons to detect.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Zoology, University of Western Australia, Nedlands, WA 6907, Australia, Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority, West Perth, WA 6005, Australia, Rotorua District Council, Rotorua 3029, New Zealand; 2: Department of Zoology, University of Western Australia, Nedlands, WA 6907, Australia, Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority, West Perth, WA 6005, Australia, Mammal Research Institute, Department of Zoology and Entomology, University of Pretoria, Pretoria 0002, South Africa;, Email: ezcameron@zoology.up.ac.za; 3: Department of Zoology, University of Western Australia, Nedlands, WA 6907, Australia, Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority, West Perth, WA 6005, Australia, Centre for Biodiversity and Restoration Ecology, School of Biological Sciences, Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand; 4: Department of Zoology, University of Western Australia, Nedlands, WA 6907, Australia, Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority, West Perth, WA 6005, Australia; 5: Department of Zoology, University of Western Australia, Nedlands, WA 6907, Australia, Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority, West Perth, WA 6005, Australia, Dept of Biology, University of Karlsruhe, Karlsruhe, 76-131, Germany

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