Perspectives on over-marking: Is it good to be on top?


What we refer to as over-marking occurs when one individual places its scent mark on top of, touching, or adjacent to the scent mark of another individual, usually a conspecific. Over-marking frequently occurs among mammals that share common paths, trails, and runways. Despite its ubiquity among terrestrial mammals, we know little about how individuals respond to over-marks and the function(s) of over-marking. Studies on voles and golden hamsters indicate that after exploring an over-mark, individuals respond selectively to the mark of the top-scent donor relative to that of the bottom-scent donor. Thus, individuals may be able to focus their attention on a particular scent mark relevant at a particular time and in a particular context, neglecting other scent marks that are present. The function(s) of over-marking are examined within the framework of ten hypotheses. Several hypotheses are plausible. However, the bulk of the literature is consistent with hypotheses stating that over-marking serving a role in olfactory communication between opposite and same-sex conspecifics. Lastly, we postulate the costs and benefits that may be garnered by the top-scent donor of an over-mark. © 2006 Japan Ethological Society and Springer-Verlag.

Publication Title

Journal of Ethology