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Better off alone! Reproductive competition and ecological constraints determine sociality in the African striped mouse (Rhabdomys pumilio)


Schoepf, Ivana; Schradin, Carsten (2012). Better off alone! Reproductive competition and ecological constraints determine sociality in the African striped mouse (Rhabdomys pumilio). Journal of Animal Ecology, 81(3):649-656.

Abstract

1. While the reasons for group-living have been studied for decades, little is known about why individuals become solitary.
2. Several previous experimental studies could demonstrate that group-living can arises as a consequence of ecological constraints.
3. It has been argued that reproductive competition between group members leads to significant costs of group-living, being a main reason of solitary-living. However, so far, no studies tested experimentally whether reproductive competition can explain solitary-living.
4. Using a socially flexible species, the African striped mouse (Rhabdomys pumilio), we tested experimentally in the field whether dispersal and solitary-living are more likely to occur when reproductive competition is present.
5. We investigated ecological constraints, here expressed as a function of population density, by removing groups of striped mice and creating vacant territories. To control for the effect of reproductive competition, which occurs only during the breeding season, we performed experiments during both the breeding and the non-breeding season. This is the first removal experiment performed in a species with communal breeding during the non-breeding season.
6. During the breeding season, when population density was low, more striped mice from experimental groups moved into the vacant territories and became solitary than striped mice from control groups. This is in support of the ecological constraints hypothesis.
7. During the non-breeding season, striped mice remained group-living despite the availability of free territories. Significantly, more striped mice became solitary-living during the breeding than during the non-breeding season. This is the first experimental support for the reproductive competition hypothesis explaining solitary-living.
8. Analysis of the sexual maturity of males showed that males which became solitary had a higher reproductive potential than males that remained group-living. Analysis of the body mass data of females showed that more solitary females reproduced than group-living females. These results indicate that by becoming solitary individuals of both sexes avoided costs of reproductive competition within groups.
9. Our study provides experimental evidence that reproductive competition within groups can lead to dispersal and solitary-living.

Abstract

1. While the reasons for group-living have been studied for decades, little is known about why individuals become solitary.
2. Several previous experimental studies could demonstrate that group-living can arises as a consequence of ecological constraints.
3. It has been argued that reproductive competition between group members leads to significant costs of group-living, being a main reason of solitary-living. However, so far, no studies tested experimentally whether reproductive competition can explain solitary-living.
4. Using a socially flexible species, the African striped mouse (Rhabdomys pumilio), we tested experimentally in the field whether dispersal and solitary-living are more likely to occur when reproductive competition is present.
5. We investigated ecological constraints, here expressed as a function of population density, by removing groups of striped mice and creating vacant territories. To control for the effect of reproductive competition, which occurs only during the breeding season, we performed experiments during both the breeding and the non-breeding season. This is the first removal experiment performed in a species with communal breeding during the non-breeding season.
6. During the breeding season, when population density was low, more striped mice from experimental groups moved into the vacant territories and became solitary than striped mice from control groups. This is in support of the ecological constraints hypothesis.
7. During the non-breeding season, striped mice remained group-living despite the availability of free territories. Significantly, more striped mice became solitary-living during the breeding than during the non-breeding season. This is the first experimental support for the reproductive competition hypothesis explaining solitary-living.
8. Analysis of the sexual maturity of males showed that males which became solitary had a higher reproductive potential than males that remained group-living. Analysis of the body mass data of females showed that more solitary females reproduced than group-living females. These results indicate that by becoming solitary individuals of both sexes avoided costs of reproductive competition within groups.
9. Our study provides experimental evidence that reproductive competition within groups can lead to dispersal and solitary-living.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies
Dewey Decimal Classification:570 Life sciences; biology
590 Animals (Zoology)
Uncontrolled Keywords:dispersal; population density; seasonality; social flexibility; solitary-living
Language:English
Date:May 2012
Deposited On:16 Apr 2012 10:24
Last Modified:07 Dec 2017 13:48
Publisher:Wiley-Blackwell
ISSN:0021-8790
Funders:Swiss National Science Foundation (grant 3100A0-120194), Swiss Academy of Natural Sciences, Swiss South African Joint Research Programme
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2656.2011.01939.x
PubMed ID:22220746

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