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Effects of density on sex organ development and female sexual maturity in laboratory-bred Microtus fortis

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Density dependence plays a key role in determining the population sizes of rodents. To explore density-dependent effects on sexual development, we documented and analyzed the development of the sex organs and hormone concentrations in both sexes, and the time to maturity in females of the reed vole in response to different population densities under laboratory conditions. Weaned voles were put into either same-sex or mixed-sex groups. Upon maturity, organ coefficients were calculated for sex organs as the length or weight of the sex organ divided by the length or weight of the body, respectively. The results demonstrate that, for individuals in same-sex groups, the coefficients for uterine length and short diameter of the testis decreased as population density increased. Population density had a highly significant effect on hormone concentrations as well as time to maturity in females. Population density in mixed-sex groups affects hormone concentrations, and increases the organ coefficients for ovarian weight, uterine weight, and uterine length; however, population density had no significant effect on the time to maturity of female voles in mixed-sex groups. These experiments showed that the effect of density dependence on the development of the vole differed between same-sex and mixed-sex conditions, the effects of increased density being greater in same-sex groups. We conclude that the effect of promoting sexual development between individuals might be greater than the effect of inhibition between individuals in mixed-sex groups.

Affiliations: 1: 1Dongting Lake Station for Wetland Ecosystem Research, Key Laboratory of Agro-ecological Processes in Subtropical Region, Institute of Subtropical Agriculture, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Changsha 410125, China ; 2: 2College of Life Science, Sichuan University, Chengdu 610064, China

*Corresponding authors; e-mail:;

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