Sex difference in the communicatory significance of localized defecation sites in Arabian gazelles (Gazella arabica)

Abstract

Mammalian scent marking in localized defecation sites (latrines) has often been interpreted in the context of (male) territory defense. However, latrines could have different functions in males and females, especially where territorial males monopolize groups of females with stable social alliances and pronounced home range overlap. We investigated the communicatory significance of latrines in wild Arabian gazelles (Gazella arabica) and assessed the spatial distribution of latrines within home ranges. Latrine density and utilization was highest in the center of female group home ranges, and less frequent in peripheral home range sections, pointing towards communication within groups rather than towards territoriality. When considering male home ranges, latrine densities and utilization were higher in non-overlap zones, contradicting a territorial function. This pattern appears to be caused by more females than territorial males per given area establishing latrines. A subsequent survey of latrine utilization, based on camera trapping, suggests that males use latrines for territory defense: males visited latrines in overlap zones disproportionally more often than females, and successions of two males prevailed. Our study thus highlights that male territorial marking can be masked when males and females use the same marking system for different purposes.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank H.H. Prince Bandar bin Saud bin Mohammed al Saud (President, SWA, Saudi Arabia) for his permission and support to conduct scientific research on wildlife in the Kingdom. Special thanks are rendered to Richard Kock, Tim Wacher, and Ernest Robinson who recognized the importance of latrine use for the understanding of the social organization of this vulnerable species and as a tool for its conservation.

Ethical standards

Our experiments comply with the current laws of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the ethical standards of the Zoological Society of London.

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Correspondence to Torsten Wronski.

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Wronski, T., Apio, A., Plath, M. et al. Sex difference in the communicatory significance of localized defecation sites in Arabian gazelles (Gazella arabica). J Ethol 31, 129–140 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10164-012-0357-6

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Keywords

  • Communication networks
  • Scent marking
  • Latrine
  • Over-marking
  • Camera trapping