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Puma communication behaviours: understanding functional use and variation among sex and age classes

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Intraspecific communication for mate selection sometimes varies between sexes based on different evolutionary life history patterns. Solitary felids use communication for territorial defence and location of mates, for which they use scent-marking behaviours including scraping, urine spraying, body rubbing, caterwauling, cheek rubbing, and the flehmen response, but these behaviours are not well understood in pumas (Puma concolor). We used motion-triggered video cameras to document the use of communication behaviours by male and female pumas, and used a series of experimental treatments to determine the mechanisms and importance of visual and olfactory cues in puma scrapes. We found that pumas use the physical scrape to locate communications, and then use urine to convey and interpret the communication itself. We also found significant differences among puma age and sex classes in the proportion of use and duration of time behaviours were displayed. Mature males spent significantly longer durations (x¯=22.1 s) on producing behaviours (scraping, body rubbing, and caterwauling behaviours) than mature females (x¯=3.3 s), and males used scraping (78.5%) and body rubbing (12.4%) behaviours at a higher proportion of visits than females (13.6 and 2.7%, respectively). Mature females spent significantly longer durations (x¯=30.4 s) on consuming behaviours (investigating and flehmen response behaviours) than mature males (x¯=13.7 s), and females used flehmen response (30.6%) and caterwauling (9.3%) behaviours at a higher proportion of visits than mature males (6.5% flehmen and 0.4% caterwauling). Male reproductive strategy appears based on advertisement for possible mates, while female reproductive strategy appears based on assessment of possible mates. The use of communication behaviours also appears to develop with age, as immature pumas rarely visited and acted as non-participants in communication behaviours.

Affiliations: 1: aSchool of Biological Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington, P.O. Box 600, Wellington 6140, New Zealand; 2: bCenter for Integrated Spatial Research, Environmental Studies Department, University of California, 1156 High Street, Santa Cruz, CA, 95064, USA


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