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The Sequential Organization of Hoarding and Its Ontogeny in the Golden Hamster

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Hoarding in the golden hamster is a species typical behaviour sequence which consists of the four phases 1) leaving the nest in search for food, 2) inserting food items into the pouches or between the incisors at the place of their discovery, 3) returning directly to the nest, 4) depositing all the food in the nest. Before leaving the nest-site again, the animal often tidies up its granary by piling the food items onto it, and then performs grooming behaviour. The first part of the paper describes the temporal and spatial rules which govern hoarding in adult animals. By means of two statistical procedures, (X2 test and BROWN'S algorithm), over 150 hoarding trips were analysed with respect to the temporal transitions between 10 behaviour components. The statistical data show that the strongest transitions exist between 1) identical acts of food insertion or food extraction into and from the pouches, 2) the final act of food insertion at the food source and, after returning to the nest, the initial act of food deposition or movements preparatory of food extraction, 3) movements preparatory of food extraction and food extraction in itself, 4) the final act of food extraction and tidying up the granary, 5) tidying up and grooming behaviour. The possible mechanisms which control these transitions are discussed. The second part of the paper reports the ontogenetic development of the sequential organization of hoarding in 24 hamster pups which were reared either in social isolation from day 13 onwards, or within their family unit until the age of 30 days. The ontogenetic results show that within four different breeding and observations periods, the temporal patterning of hoarding developed according to constant principles, independently of the animals' social rearing conditions: From the beginning of the observation period (age of 13, resp. 14 days), immature patterns of pouch insertion and pouch extraction occurred without predictable temporal order and with no regular association with a given place in the housing- and test apparatus. From the age of three weeks onwards, these motor patterns reached their mature coordination and were integrated into systematic sub-sequences of repeated acts of pouch insertion (at the food-source) and pouch extraction (back in the nest). The appearance of these sub-sequences led to the organization of hoarding into the four above-mentioned phases, which enabled the transportation of food to take place in the most economical, goad-directed way. The integration of grooming as the terminal act in the hoarding sequence occurred only after hoarding became clearly differentiated into the four well coordinated phases. In pups which lived within their family during the first month of life, the general coordination of hoarding was initiated before the animals' isolation into a private housing apparatus, yet it was strongly enhanced by the conditions of social isolation. However, our data yields convergent evidence that the external rearing conditions exerted mainly a motivational influence on the performance of mature hoarding, whereas maturational processes seemed to play a more fundamental role in the ontogenetic differentiation of the behaviour.

Affiliations: 1: FPSE, University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland


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