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Nest-Building Behavior in Three Species of Deer Mice, Peromyscus

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Nest-building behavior of Peromyscus floridanus, P. gossypinus, and P. leucopus was studied. The three species were compared on the basis of amount of cotton removed daily from a dispenser and the type of nest built, and floridanus and gossypinus were also tested for their tendency of shred paper strips. Floridanus removed less cotton and built poorer nests than the other species, which did not differ significantly in these measures. First generation laboratory conceived and reared subjects of floridanus and gossypinus performed more poorly and more variably in these tests than wild-caught individuals, although the relative differences between species persisted. Floridanus did less shredding than gossypinus. In contrast to the cotton-removal experiments, laboratory subjects of both species tended to do more shredding than field animals and had lower coefficients of variation. The differences between field and laboratory subjects in both kinds of tests are attributed mainly to non-genetic differences in activity or temperament produced by conditions of captivity. The poor nest-building behavior of floridanus apparently reflects evolution of burrow nesting habits, with consequent reduction in selection for nest-building behavior, under the influence of warm, xeric climatic conditions. The higher level of nest-building activity in gossypinus and leucopus correlates with their greater habitat and nest-site diversity. The differences in nest-building behavior of these three species are believed to provide at least a partial explanation of their present patterns of ecologic and geographic distribution. Intraspecific variation in nest-building activities was greater in two floridanus populations than in gossypinus from the same areas. The more pronounced difference in the floridanus stocks is correlated with their greater genetic isolation and ecological divergence and appears to be related to the types of burrows available in the two habitats. It is concluded that evolution of nest-building behavior of these three species, although influenced by gross climatic conditions, has been more closely associated with more proximate ecological factors such as habitat and nest site preferences which in turn help to determine the specific microclimates under which each species lives.

Affiliations: 1: Archbold Biological Station, Lake Placid, Florida, Department of Mammalogy, The American Museum of Natural History, New York, N. Y.


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