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Sexual differences in responses of meadow voles to environmental cues in the presence of mink odor

Abstract

In rodents, defensive behaviors increase the chances of survival during a predator encounter. Observable rodent defensive behaviors have been shown to be influenced by the presence of predator odors and nearby environmental cues such as cover, odors from conspecifics and food availability. Our experiment tested whether a predator scent cue influenced refuge preference in meadow voles within a laboratory setting. We placed voles in an experimental apparatus with bedding soaked in mink scent versus olive oil as a control across from four tubes that either contained (a) a dark plastic covering, (b) opposite-sex conspecific odor, (c) a food pellet, or (d) an empty, unscented space. A three-way interaction of tube contents, subject sex, and the presence of mink or olive oil on the preference of meadow voles to spend time in each area of the experimental apparatus and their latency to enter each area of the apparatus revealed sex differences in the environmental preference of meadow voles facing the risk of predation. The environmental preference of female, but not male, meadow voles was altered by the presence of mink urine or olive oil. A similar trend was found in the latency of males and females to enter each area of the experimental apparatus. These differences suggest that each sex utilizes different methods to increase their fitness when experiencing a predation risk. The observed sex differences may be explained by the natural history of voles owing to the differences in territorial range and the dynamics of evasion of terrestrial predators.

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Availability of data and material

The corresponding author can make the data collected during the completion of this experiment available upon, reasonable, individual request.

Code availability

The data utilized to obtain the results of this experiment were analyzed in R 4.0.2 (R Core Team, 2020) and RStudio 1.3.1093 (RStudio Team, 2020). The specific code used to analyze this data can be made available upon individual request.

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank Kelsey Clark for her advice in the writing of this manuscript, and the University of Memphis Department of Biological Sciences and the Jack H. Morris distinguished Professorship award presented to Dr. Michael H. Ferkin for the funds necessary to complete this manuscript.

Funding

The completion of this experiment was made possible with funds provided by The University of Memphis Department of Biological Sciences and the Jack H. Morris distinguished Professorship award presented to Dr. Michael H. Ferkin.

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Contributions

The experimental concept was proposed by DMM and Dr. MHF. All authors contributed to the experimental methods. Data collection was completed by DMM and SSG. Data analysis was completed by KNR. First drafts of this manuscript were completed by DMM and SSG. All authors revised subsequent versions of the manuscript, and approved the final draft of this manuscript that was subsequently submitted for review.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Sarah S. Garris.

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None of the authors have a conflict of interest to declare.

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All applicable international, national, and institutional guidelines for care and use of animals were followed. The authors specifically followed guidelines of the American Society of Mammalogists for research involving live mammals and Animal Protocol 0731, approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee at the Univeristy of Memphis, to design and complete this experiment. Human participants were not utilized to complete this experiment.

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Midlick, D.M., Garris, S.S., Rohrer, K.N. et al. Sexual differences in responses of meadow voles to environmental cues in the presence of mink odor. Anim Cogn 25, 1003–1011 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-022-01606-8

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-022-01606-8

Keywords

  • Microtus pennsylvanicus
  • Mink
  • Predation
  • Evasion
  • Environmental cues
  • Predator scent