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The influence of predator and conspecific odor on sex differences in path choice in meadow voles

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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.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Biological Sciences, Ellington Hall, The University of Memphis, Memphis, TN 38152, USA

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