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Territorial Marking With Faeces in Badgers (Meles Meles) : a Comparison of Boundary and Hinterland Latrine Use

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Badgers (Meles meles) defecate, urinate and scent mark at latrines which seem to have a territorial function. The main aim of the present study was to compare defecation patterns at boundary and hinterland latrines, in order to test the hypothesis that these two types of latrine have a similar function. We investigated latrine use by means of a year-round survey of all the latrines in 7 badger territories, by bait-marking of 15 territories, and by monitoring latrine use in 6 radio-collared badgers belonging to three social groups. The spatial distribution of latrines within a territory was bimodal, with the greatest densities oflatrines close to the outside, and close to the centre, of the territory respectively. Boundary latrines were larger and more consistently used than hinterland latrines, but these differences could be accounted for by the fact that boundary latrines are visited by the members of more than one social group. Defecation at latrines was subject to seasonal variation, with a major peak in latrine use in spring and a minor peak in autumn. The spring peak was largely attributable to an increase in the use of hinterland latrines, the autumn peak to an increase in the use of boundary latrines. Males visited boundary latrines considerably more often than did females, but both sexes visited hinterland latrines equally often. Overmarking occurred equally often at both types of latrine and involved animals from the same as well as from different groups, but there was a significant tendency for more between-group than within-group overmarking. Overmarking occurred mainly on fresh, as opposed to old, faeces deposits. The sex and seasonal differences in use of boundary latrines suggest that these function at least partly as a form of mate-guarding, to deter neighbouring males from entering a territory for mating purposes. It is less clear why females mark at hinterland latrines. One possibility, consistent with the observed spatial distribution of hinterland latrines, is that they function to defend the main burrow system, which is used for breeding; another is that they carry information about social status. Overmarking probably serves to obliterate the marks of competitors, which are members of neighbouring social groups in the case of boundary latrines, but may be members of the same social group in the case of hinterland latrines. We conclude that previous ideas about the function of territoriality in badgers, and about the information conveyed by latrines, are oversimplified.

Affiliations: 1: (School of Biological Sciences, University of Sussex, Brighton BN1 9QG, U.K.


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