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Genetic, Physiological, and Behavioral Background of Reproduction in the Rabbit

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The records of a number of female rabbits of races III, IIIc, X, and AcEp which had produced at least four litters were analyzed for correlations between scattering and cannibalism and five other measures of maternal behavior. These rabbits were classed as low newborn mortality mothers and the maternal behavior scores for their first successful litter were compared with the behavioral scores of high newborn mortality mothers (60 per cent mortality of complete litters) for their first successful litter. Only race IIIc showed any significant amount of scattering and cannibalism. In this race, correlational analyses of scattering and cannibalism against the five other measures of maternal behavior found that both were significantly related to nest quality and had weaker, though positive, correlations with time of nest building. Race IIIc does were only moderately consistent in their scattering or cannibalizing behavior over four litters and these variables were correlated .404. No differences were found between high and low newborn mortality mothers except for race AcEp, where the low mortality mothers were found to have significantly more interest in their young and to be better nurse-mothers than the high newborn mortality does. The findings from this study and a previous one (DENENBERG, et al., 1958) indicate that better nest quality, earlier time of nest building, greater percentage of live born young suckled on the first day, lack of scattering, and lack of cannibalism are inter-correlated. It was concluded that these characteristics can be classified as a "maternal care" complex which appears to be independent of a second group involving interest in young and aggressive protection.

Affiliations: 1: Hamilton Station, Roscoe B. Jackson Memorial Laboratory, Bar Harbor, Maine


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