Outcomes of previous mating encounters influence mate preferences and memory in meadow voles, Microtus pennsylvanicus


Animals use social information to select and modify mate preferences. Future mate choice decisions for previous partners may depend on the outcomes of their mating interactions. Using meadow voles, Microtus pennsylvanicus, we investigated whether their preference for the location of a previous mating encounter would be maintained or modified depending on the outcome of the mating encounter. We conducted preference tests in a T-maze before and after subjects were paired. First, the subjects were allowed to choose between two potential mates and were then paired with their preferred individual for 4 h. They were then returned to an empty T-maze 6 days (males) and 21 days (males and females) following the paired encounter and allowed to explore, during which we recorded the time that individuals spent investigating each section of the maze that previously contained the partner and alternative conspecifics. The outcome of the mating encounters did not cause males to maintain or modify their preference for the location of their partners, 6 days later. Likewise, males and females did not maintain or modify their preferences for the location of their partners, 21 days later, if a barrier prevented them from mating and if they made no mating attempt. This was also exhibited among female subjects whose partners attempted to mate. However, 21 days later (the length of gestation for females), males that successfully mated or attempted to mate maintained their preference for the location of their mate, while females that mated either maintained or modified their preference for the location of their mate depending on whether they produced pups. These results suggest that meadow voles use the information they gain from previous interactions to guide their future mate preferences. Their ability to recall the location of successful mating encounters may be a way to increase their overall fitness.

Publication Title

Animal Behaviour