Scent marks of rodents can provide information to conspecifics


For a scent mark to be informative it must provide a reliable, honest signal that allows individuals that detect it to predict fitness tradeoffs if they choose or not choose to respond to it. I argue that scent marks provide a great deal of information about the sender to receivers. The manner in which an animal uses this information to make decisions will depend on the context and manner in which it encounters these scent marks. Receivers can use the information found in the scent marks and odors to locate the donor, learn its identity, determine the donor’s phenotype or genotype, and assess whether the scent marks were encountered earlier by conspecifics. For receivers to make potentially informed decisions, when they encounter the scent marks of conspecifics with whom they have had different experiences across a variety of contexts higher level cognitive processing involving procedural memory, episodic memory, autobiographical memory and making judgements of numerical discrimination would be required. Senders should have some insight into the receivers to increase the likelihood that the targets respond appropriately to the scent mark by reducing uncertainty. The sender’s state or the current state of the environment and the context will affect when and where the scent marks were deposited. Decisions to deposit scent marks and respond to them must represent a tradeoff in the benefits and costs to the sender and receivers in terms of their fitness and survival. The actual tradeoff should be context dependent and reflect the experience, physiology, and life history constraints affecting the receiver. Calculating these tradeoffs likely involves some cognitive processing and requires some sort of information transfer between the sender and the receiver.

Publication Title

Animal Cognition