Scent marking is critical to intraspecific communication in many mammal species, but little is known regarding its role in communication among different species. We used 4 years of motion-triggered video to document the use of scent marking areas—termed “community scrapes”—by pumas (Puma concolor) (http://www.momo-p.com/showdetail-e.php?movieid=momo160812pc01a) and other carnivore species. We found that gray foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) routinely rubbed their cheeks on puma scrapes (http://www.momo-p.com/showdetail-e.php?movieid=momo160812uc01a), and tested a series of hypotheses to determine its function. We found that gray foxes selected puma scrapes over other objects, and cheek rubbing by foxes was also correlated with how recently a puma had visited the scrape, suggesting that foxes were intent upon accumulating fresh puma scent. Cheek rubbing by foxes was not correlated with their breeding season or with how recently another fox had visited the site. Finally we found a cascading pattern in the occurrence of pumas, coyotes (Canis latrans) and gray foxes at community scrapes, suggesting that gray foxes may use puma scent to deter predation. This is the first published study to find evidence of a subordinate species using the scent of a dominant species to communicate with heterospecifics. The behavioral cascade we found in scent marking patterns also suggests that scent marking could be a mechanism that impacts the distribution and abundance of species. Additional videos pertaining to this article include http://www.momo-p.com/showdetail-e.php?movieid=momo160812uc02a, and http://www.momo-p.com/showdetail-e.php?movieid=momo160812uc03a.
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Funding was provided by NSF Grants 0963022 and 1255913, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and the University of California at Santa Cruz. We thank P. Houghtaling, Y. Shakeri, R. Peterson, and numerous technicians and volunteers for their help on the project.
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Allen, M.L., Gunther, M.S. & Wilmers, C.C. The scent of your enemy is my friend? The acquisition of large carnivore scent by a smaller carnivore. J Ethol 35, 13–19 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10164-016-0492-6
- Cheek rubbing
- Interspecific interactions
- Puma concolor
- Scent marking
- Urocyon cinereoargenteus