Distant neighbours: friends or foes? Eurasian beavers show context-dependent responses to simulated intruders

  • Anke Benten
  • Hannah B Cross
  • Helga V Tinnesand
  • Andreas Zedrosser
  • Frank RosellEmail author
Original Article


Neighbour-stranger discrimination is widespread in territorial animals, and depending on the relative threat posed by neighbours and strangers, residents commonly exhibit either the “dear enemy phenomenon” or the “nasty neighbour effect”. Different members of the same group may represent different threat levels, and the response of residents can be modified depending on, e.g. the sex and dominance status of the intruder. Neighbour-stranger discrimination is primarily investigated in neighbours with shared borders, and whether residents recognize their more distant neighbours remains unexplored. Here, using experimental scent marks, we investigated whether Eurasian beavers (Castor fiber) discriminate between distant neighbours (i.e. two territories away) and strangers (i.e. further away than the known dispersal distance). We tested the hypotheses that Eurasian beavers can discriminate between distant neighbours and strangers and that social status (i.e. sub-dominant or dominant) and sex of the intruder affect the responses of resident beavers. We predicted that resident beavers show the “dear enemy phenomenon” in response towards dominant distant neighbours due to their territory ownership and the “nasty neighbour effect” in response towards sub-dominants due to their likelihood to disperse. Sex of residents and social status of intruders were important in explaining territorial responses, with males exhibiting stronger responses to sub-dominant distant neighbours, especially males, than sub-dominant strangers. No such discrimination was found by females or between dominant distant neighbours and strangers. We suggest that the “nasty neighbour” response by male resident beavers towards sub-dominant distant neighbours relates to the relative threat levels due to repeated intrusions during dispersal attempts.

Significance statement

Territorial animals discriminate between neighbours and strangers to allocate aggressive behaviour to conspecific intruders. This neighbour-stranger discrimination has primarily been investigated between adjacent neighbours, but extraterritorial movements of residents into distant territories occur. Whether residents can discriminate between distant neighbours and strangers has only been studied in skylarks (Alauda arvensis), based on acoustic communication. Yet, it is unknown whether distant neighbours are perceived as neighbours or strangers based on olfactory recognition. Here we investigated whether Eurasian beavers (C. fiber) can discriminate between distant neighbours (i.e. two territories away) and strangers, based on olfactory scent samples including information on social status (i.e. dominant or sub-dominant) and sex of the intruder. Our results show that male residents showed a “nasty neighbour” response towards sub-dominant distant neighbours. These findings highlight the sensitivity of territorial mammals to the familiarity and social status of intruders.


Beaver Dear enemy Nasty neighbour Stranger Territoriality 



We gratefully thank Christian A. Robstad, Patricia M. Graf and Yasmin Dawson for help in the field. We would also like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments and suggestions to improve the quality of the paper.

Funding information

This study was funded by the University of South-Eastern Norway.

Compliance with ethical standards

Ethical statement

All capture and handling procedures performed in this study involving animals were approved by the Norwegian Directorate for Nature Management (2012/1191 ART-VI-ORD) and the Norwegian Experimental Animal Board (ID 4387). The ASAB/ABS Guidelines for the treatment of animals in behavioural research and teaching were met (ASAB/ABS 2016). None of the animals captured for this study were injured, and all were successfully released at the site of capture after handling. No subsequent long-term effects of capture were observed.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

265_2019_2792_MOESM1_ESM.docx (19 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 18 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Wildlife Research UnitAgricultural Centre Baden-WürttembergAulendorfGermany
  2. 2.Department of Natural Sciences and Environmental Health, Faculty of Technology, Natural Sciences and Maritime SciencesUniversity of South-Eastern NorwayNotoddenNorway
  3. 3.Department of Integrative Biology, Institute of Wildlife Biology and Game ManagementUniversity of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences, ViennaViennaAustria

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