The effects of castration, sex ratio and population density on social segregation and habitat use in Soay sheep
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- Ruckstuhl, K.E., Manica, A., MacColl, A.D.C. et al. Behav Ecol Sociobiol (2006) 59: 694. doi:10.1007/s00265-005-0099-3
We analysed 16 years of census data gathered on the island of Hirta (archipelago of St. Kilda) to investigate the effects of castration, population density, sex ratio, season and group type on habitat use and social segregation of Soay sheep. From 1978 to 1980, 72 male lambs were castrated. We used this experiment to study how a change in reproductive status could affect sociality and habitat choice of these males. Males, females and castrates were all segregated outside the rutting season in autumn. Castrates were the least segregated from females in spring and summer but were most segregated from them during the pre-rut. The more equal the sex ratios, the higher was the degree of social segregation. The three sex classes used similar habitat types, namely, Holcus agrostis, Agrostis festuca and Calluna habitats. Holcus agrostis and Agrostis festuca were top- and second-ranked in female and castrate habitat use, while Holcus agrostis and Calluna were the two top habitat types used by rams. It is unclear why males included Calluna heath habitats, but it cannot be excluded that they might have shifted their use depending on forage availability. A lack in differences in habitat use between castrates and females suggests that body size differences alone cannot be the driving factor for habitat segregation in male and female Soay sheep and that there are reasons other than body size that could motivate reproductive males to use additional habitat types, such as Calluna heath. Although habitat use shifted from one habitat type to the next between low- and high-population-density years and between seasons, there was no clear link between population density and how different groups (male, female or castrate) used these areas. We discuss effects of reproductive status, population density and sex ratio on social segregation and habitat use and suggest that these factors need to be taken into account when investigating causes of sexual segregation in ungulates.