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Vocalizations and courtship intensity correlate with mounting success in marginated tortoises Testudo marginata


The courtship and mounting behaviour of tortoises is elaborate, and based on a multiple signalling system involving visual, olfactory and acoustic signals. Vocalizations related to mounting seem to be particularly significant because tortoises vocalize mainly at this time. Vocalizations and courtship behaviour may be costly for males, and if these costs increase differentially for different males, then the potential exists for vocalizations and displays to reveal male individual quality. In this correlative study, we analysed relationships between male mounting success and morphological and behavioural traits, particularly acoustic signals, exhibited by male marginated tortoises (Testudo marginata) during courtship, in a group of 94 individuals breeding in semi-natural enclosures. For each male, we estimated general body condition, courtship intensity and mounting success; calls of mounting males were recorded and four sonagraphic features were measured. Calls differed significantly among males, and two features varied according to body condition. Male mounting success significantly increased according to the male/female size-ratio, suggesting the existence of a size-based assortative mating. Mounting success was also highly correlated with courtship intensity, measured as number of bites and rams given to females before mounting, and with number of calls emitted during mounting. Finally, mounting success was negatively related to call duration. To our knowledge, this is the first study in which features of tortoise vocalizations are shown to convey reliable information about male quality in socio-sexual contexts.

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We are very grateful to T. Czeschlik, A. Zahavi and two anonymous referees for providing helpful comments and suggestions on an earlier version of the manuscript. We also thank F. Pedrazzoli and R. Copetti for help with field work. The study was financially supported by a MURST grant (COFIN 2000) to P.G., M.F. and R.S. This study conformed with the current Italian laws on tortoise captivity.

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Correspondence to Roberto Sacchi.

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Communicated by T. Czeschlik

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Sacchi, R., Galeotti, P., Fasola, M. et al. Vocalizations and courtship intensity correlate with mounting success in marginated tortoises Testudo marginata . Behav Ecol Sociobiol 55, 95–102 (2003).

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  • Call features
  • Courtship intensity
  • Mating success
  • Marginated tortoise
  • Testudo marginata