, Volume 154, Issue 1, pp 227–236 | Cite as

Resource distribution influences mating system in the bobuck (Trichosurus cunninghami: Marsupialia)

  • Jennifer K. Martin
  • Angus A. Martin
Behavioral Ecology


Mammalian mating systems are thought to be shaped by the spatial distribution and abundance of key resources, which in turn influence the spacing behaviour of individuals. In particular, female home range size is predicted to reflect the availability of key resources. We documented the availability and distribution of food and shelter resources for two neighbouring populations of bobucks, or mountain brushtail possums, Trichosurus cunninghami, that were characterised by different mating systems: our “forest population” was socially monogamous, whereas the “roadside population” was polygynous. Both silver wattle, Acacia dealbata, the main food resource for bobucks, and den-trees, which provided shelter, occurred at significantly higher density at the roadside site. The pattern of distribution of these two resources also differed between the sites. Both food and den-trees were scattered evenly throughout the roadside habitat. In contrast, den-trees were located predominantly at one end of the forest site, while silver wattle trees were located at the other. There was no significant difference in the amount of silver wattle, or in the number of den-trees, located within the home ranges of individual females at the two sites. However, forest females had home ranges, on average, almost three times the size of those of roadside females. At the roadside site, the size of female home ranges varied inversely with the density of silver wattle, indicating that these females ranged over as large an area as necessary to gain access to sufficient silver wattle trees. There was no such relationship among forest females. These populations provide a clear example of resource distribution determining female home range size. This influenced the number of female home ranges a male’s home range overlapped with, which in turn determined the mating system. Such clear links between resource availability and mating system have not previously been established in a marsupial.


Resource availability Behavioural flexibility Female home range size Mammal Mating behaviour 



We thank Bert and Ruth Lobert and Kath Handasyde and Roger Martin for allowing us to work on their properties. Many thanks to Kath Handasyde and Graeme Coulson for their input into many aspects of this research and to Chris Johnson, Euan Ritchie, Anne Kerle and an anonymous reviewer for helpful comments on this manuscript. Sincere thanks also to Gina Westhorpe for her assistance with the forest vegetation surveys. While conducting this research, J. Martin was supported by an Australian Postgraduate Award Ph.D. scholarship; research funding was gratefully received from the Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment, the Loftus-Hills Memorial Fund (Department of Zoology, University of Melbourne), the Australian Federation of University Women (Vic), the Ecological Society of Australia and the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales. J. Martin was also supported by a David Hay Write-up Award (University of Melbourne). This research was conducted with the permission of the Victorian Department of Natural Resources and Environment/Department of Sustainability and Environment (Permit Nos. RP-96-070, 10000466, 10000914, 10001402, and 10001937) and the University of Melbourne Animal Experimentation Ethics Committee (Register number 99010).


  1. Alexander RD (1974) The evolution of social behaviour. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 5:325–383CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Altmann J (1990) Primate males go where the females are. Anim Behav 39:193–195CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Armitage KB (1962) Social behaviour of a colony of yellow-bellied marmots Marmota flaviventris. Anim Behav 10:319–331CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Barlow GW (1988) Monogamy in relation to resources. In: Slobodchikoff CN (ed) The ecology of social behaviour. Academic, San Diego, pp 55–79CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brashares JS, Arcese P (2002) Role of forage, habitat and predation in the behavioural plasticity of a small African antelope. J Anim Ecol 71:626–638CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Busher PE, Warner RJ, Jenkins SH (1983) Population density, colony composition, and local movements in two Sierra Nevadan beaver populations. J Mammal 64:314–318CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cavallini P (1996) Variation in the social system of the red fox. Ethol Ecol Evol 8:323–342CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Claridge AW, Lindenmayer DB (1998) Consumption of hypogeous fungi by the mountain brushtail possum (Trichosurus caninus) in eastern Australia. Mycol Res 102:269–272CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Clutton-Brock TH (1989) Mammalian mating systems. Proc R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 236:339–372CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Clutton-Brock TH, Harvey PH (1978) Mammals, resources and reproductive strategies. Nature 273:191–195CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Clutton-Brock TH, Parker GA (1992) Potential reproductive rates and the operation of sexual selection. Q Rev Biol 67:437–456CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Clutton-Brock TH, Vincent ACJ (1991) Sexual selection and the potential reproductive rates of males and females. Nature 351:58–60CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Cowan DP, Garson PJ (1985) Variations in the social structure of rabbit populations: causes of demographic consequences. In: Sibley RM, Smith RH (eds) Behavioural ecology: ecological consequences of adaptive behaviour. Blackwell, Oxford, pp 537–555Google Scholar
  14. Davies NB (1991) Mating systems. In: Krebs JR, Davies NB (eds) Behavioural ecology: an evolutionary approach, 3rd edn. Blackwell, Oxford, pp 263–299Google Scholar
  15. Davies NB, Lundberg A (1984) Food distribution and a variable mating system in the dunnock, Prunella modularis. J Anim Ecol 53:895–912CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Di Bitetti MS (2001) Home-range use by the tufted capuchin monkey (Cebus apella nigritus) in a subtropical rainforest of Argentina. J Zool 253:33–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Downes SJ, Handasyde KA, Elgar MA (1997) The use of corridors by mammals in fragmented Australian eucalypt forests. Conserv Biol 11:718–726CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Dunbar RIM (1982) Intraspecific variations in mating strategy. In: Bateson PPG, Klopfer PH (eds) Perspectives in ethology: ontogeny, vol 5. Plenum, New York, pp 385–431Google Scholar
  19. Efford M, Warburton B, Spencer N (2000) Home-range changes by brushtail possums in response to control. Wildl Res 27:117–127CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Emlen ST, Oring LW (1977) Ecology, sexual selection, and evolution of mating systems. Science 197:215–223CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Fisher DO, Owens IPF (2000) Female home range size and the evolution of social organization in macropod marsupials. J Anim Ecol 69:1083–1098CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Forbes TDA, Pemberton IJ, Smith GR, Hensarling CM (1995) Seasonal variation of two phenolic amines in Acacia berlandieri. J Arid Environ 30:403–415CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Gibbons P, Lindenmayer DB (2002) Tree hollows and wildlife conservation in Australia. CSIRO, CollingwoodGoogle Scholar
  24. Goldingay RL, Quin DG, Churchill S (2001) Spatial variability in the social organisation of the yellow-bellied glider (Petaurus australis) near Ravenshoe, north Queensland. Aust J Zool 49:397–409CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Harper MJ, McCarthy MA, van der Ree R, Fox JC (2004) Overcoming bias in ground-based surveys of hollow-bearing trees using double-sampling. For Ecol Manage 190:291–300CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Harper MJ, McCarthy MA, van der Ree R (2005) The abundance of hollow-bearing trees in urban dry sclerophyll forest and the effect of wind on hollow development. Biol Conserv 122:181–192CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Ims RA (1987) Responses in spatial organisation and behaviour to manipulations of the food resource in the vole Clethrionomys rufocanus. J Anim Ecol 56:585–596CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Jarman PJ (1974) Social organization of antelope in relation to their ecology. Behaviour 48:215–267CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kamler JF, Ballard WB, Lemons PR, Mote K (2004) Variation in mating system and group structure in two populations of swift foxes, Vulpes velox. Anim Behav 68:83–88CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Keogh VJ (2004) Male behaviour associated with facultative monogamy in the bobuck (Trichosurus caninus). Honours Thesis, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, AustraliaGoogle Scholar
  31. Kleiman DG, Malcolm JR (1981) The evolution of male parental investment in mammals. In: Gubernick DJ, Klopfer PH (eds) Parental care in mammals. Plenum, New York, pp 347–387CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Komers PE, Brotherton PNM (1997) Female space use is the best predictor of monogamy in mammals. Proc R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 264:1261–1270CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Lindenmayer DB, Pope ML, Cunningham RB (2004) Patch use by the greater glider (Petauroides volans) in a fragmented forest ecosystem. II. Characteristics of den trees and preliminary data on den-use patterns. Wildl Res 31:569–577CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Lott DF (1984) Intraspecific variation in the social systems of wild vertebrates. Behaviour 88:266–325CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Lott DF (1991) Intraspecific variation in the social systems of wild vertebrates. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  36. Martin JK (2005) Behavioural ecology of the bobuck (Trichosurus cunninghami). PhD Thesis, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, AustraliaGoogle Scholar
  37. Martin JK (2006) Den-use and home-range characteristics of bobucks, Trichosurus cunninghami, resident in a forest patch. Aust J Zool 54:225–234CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Martin JK, Handasyde KA (2007) Comparison of bobuck (Trichosurus cunninghami) demography in two habitat types in the Strathbogie Ranges, Australia. J Zool 271:375–385CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Martin JK, Handasyde KA, Wright CJ, Ayers LT, McDonald-Madden E, Reside A (2004) Aspects of the ecology of the bobuck Trichosurus caninus in the Strathbogie Ranges, Victoria. In: Goldingay RL, Jackson SM (eds) The biology of Australian possums and gliders. Surrey Beatty, Chipping Norton, pp 484–489Google Scholar
  40. Martin JK, Handasyde K, Taylor AC (2007a) Linear roadside remnants: their influence on den-use, home range and mating system in bobucks (Trichosurus cunninghami). Aust Ecol 32:686–696CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Martin, JK, Handasyde, KA, Taylor AC, Coulson G (2007b) Long-term pair bonds without mating fidelity in a mammal. Behaviour (in press)Google Scholar
  42. Mitani JC, Gros-Louis J, Manson JH (1996) Number of males in primate groups: comparative tests of competing hypotheses. Am J Primatol 38:315–332CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Ostfeld RS (1985) Limiting resources and territoriality in microtine rodents. Am Nat 126:1–15CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Pontes ARM, Soares ML (2005) Sleeping sites of common marmosets (Callithrix jacchus) in defaunated urban forest fragments: a strategy to maximise food intake. J Zool 266:55–63CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Rohner C, Ward D (1997) Chemical and mechanical defence against herbivory in two sympatric species of desert Acacia. J Veg Sci 85:717–726CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Rutberg AT (1983) The evolution of monogamy in primates. J Theor Biol 104:93–112CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  47. Sanchez-Prieto CB, Carranza J, Pulido FJ (2004) Reproductive behaviour in female Iberian red deer: effects of aggregation and dispersion of food. J Mammal 85:761–767CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Seebeck JH, Warneke RM, Baxter BJ (1984) Diet of the bobuck, Trichosurus caninus (Ogilby) (Marsupialia: Phalangeridae) in a mountain forest in Victoria. In: Smith AP, Hume ID (eds) Possums and gliders. Surrey Beatty, Chipping Norton, pp 145–154Google Scholar
  49. Slobodchikoff CN (1984) Resources and the evolution of social behaviour. In: Price PW, Slobodchikoff CN, Gaud WS (eds) A new ecology: novel approaches to interactive systems. Wiley, New York, pp 228–251Google Scholar
  50. Spooner PG (2005) Response of Acacia species to disturbance by roadworks in roadside environments in southern New South Wales, Australia. Biol Conserv 122:231–242CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Spooner PG, Lunt ID, Okabe A, Shiode S (2004) Spatial analysis of roadside Acacia populations on a road network using the network K-function. Landsc Ecol 19:491–499CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. van der Ree R, Bennett AF (2001) Woodland remnants along roadsides: a reflection of pre-European structure in temperate woodlands? Ecol Manage Restor 2:224–226Google Scholar
  53. Wrangham RW (1980) An ecological model of female-bonded primate groups. Behaviour 75:262–300CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Zabel CJ, Taggart SJ (1989) Shift in red fox, Vulpes vulpes, mating system associated with El-Nino in the Bering Sea. Anim Behav 38:830–838CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ZoologyThe University of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia

Personalised recommendations