Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 62, Issue 9, pp 1509–1521 | Cite as

Large males dominate: ecology, social organization, and mating system of wild cavies, the ancestors of the guinea pig

  • Matthias Asher
  • Tanja Lippmann
  • Jörg T. Epplen
  • Cornelia Kraus
  • Fritz Trillmich
  • Norbert Sachser
Original Paper


Ecological factors differently affect male and female animals and thereby importantly influence their life history and reproductive strategies. Caviomorph rodents are found in a wide range of habitats in South America and different social and mating systems have evolved in closely related species. This permits to study the impact of ecological factors on social evolution. In this study, we investigated the social organization and the mating system of the wild cavy (Cavia aperea), the ancestor of the domestic guinea pig, in its natural habitat in Uruguay. Based on our laboratory investigations, we expected a polygynous system with large males controlling access to females. Results from radiotelemetry and direct observations showed that females occupied small stable home ranges which were largely overlapped by that of one large male, resulting in a social organization of small harems. In some cases, small satellite males were associated with harems and intermediate-sized roaming males were occasionally observed on the study site. However, microsatellite analyses revealed that offspring were exclusively sired by large males of the same or neighboring harems, with a moderate degree of multiple paternity (13–27%). Thus, the mating system of C. aperea can be described as polygynous and contrasts with the promiscuous organization described for other species of cavies (Cavia magna, Galea musteloides and Microcavia australis) living under different ecological conditions. Our findings stress the strong impact of environmental factors on social evolution in Caviomorphs as resource distribution determines female space use and, thereby, the ability of males to monopolize females.


Wild guinea pig Wild cavy Cavia aperea Spatial organization Social organization Mating systems Paternity 



We thank M. Clara, J.C. Gambarotta, and A. Saralegui for their tremendous support in logistic issues. The invaluable support of G. Dekomien while establishing the microsatellite system is greatly appreciated. Special thanks to O. Adrian, K. Bohnsack, S.C. Hoyer, and C. Touma for critical comments on the manuscript. Permission for fieldwork in Uruguay was granted by the Ministerio de Ganadería, Agricultura y Pesca (MGAP), and all experiments complied with the current laws of Uruguay. The study was supported by a grant from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) to M. Asher and grants from the German Research Foundation (DFG) to F. Trillmich (Tr 105/8 1–3) and N. Sachser (Sa 389/3–3).

Supplementary material

265_2008_580_MOESM1_ESM.doc (32 kb)
S1 Polymorphic microsatellites used for paternity analysis in the cavy (Cavia aperea): locus name, repeat motif, primer sequences, optimal annealing temperature, product length in base pairs, EMBL-Accession number (DOC 32.5 KB)
265_2008_580_MOESM2_ESM.doc (48 kb)
S2 Interactions between adult cavies (Cavia aperea). Early summer, 85-h observation time; late summer, 110-h observation time. Bold numbers refer to interactions between large male and females from the same spatial unit (DOC 47.5 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Matthias Asher
    • 1
  • Tanja Lippmann
    • 2
  • Jörg T. Epplen
    • 2
  • Cornelia Kraus
    • 3
  • Fritz Trillmich
    • 3
  • Norbert Sachser
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Behavioural BiologyUniversity of MuensterMuensterGermany
  2. 2.Department of Human GeneticsUniversity of BochumBochumGermany
  3. 3.Department of Animal BehaviourUniversity of BielefeldBielefeldGermany

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