Emigration mechanisms in feral house mice – a laboratory investigation of the influence of social structure, population density, and aggression
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Emigration in small mammals may be strongly related to social factors, but direct observations of emigrants are rare. Feral house mice (Mus domesticus) were studied using a population cage system that allowed continuous observation of individually marked animals. Mice that left their natal cage and took up residence in cages that could only be reached by crossing a water barrier were defined as emigrants. Six pairs of house mice with their litters were placed in the system, and data on aggressive interactions, body weight, reproduction, mortality and emigration were collected daily. Both sexes emigrated, but males did so twice as often as females. Population density was not correlated with the frequency of aggression, and had no effect on the weight of emigrating individuals. Male emigrants suffered more aggression before emigration than their non-emigrant brothers of the same age; they were aggressively driven out by other males, predominantly by the father. Female emigration depended on the female’s chances of reproduction. The probability of a female reproducing decreased with increasing birth order. Females born in a late litter, who therefore had only a low chance of reproduction, dispersed earlier than those of early litters. Resident males were reproductively suppressed. Male offspring had two different strategies for attaining top rank. They could develop rapidly and reach sexual maturity early on, but face competition with the father, risking being forced to emigrate. Alternatively, they could develop slowly, stay within their family and wait for a chance to take over the dominant position. It is concluded that emigration in male and female feral house mice is caused by intrasexual competition.
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