Self-discrimination in meadow voles, Microtus pennsylvanicus


Particular features of the signaling characteristics of the scent marks of temperate zone, seasonally breeding mammals may reflect differences in their reproductive state and, hence, be variable. Consequently, an individual's perception of self may depend more on the condition independent than on the condition-dependent signaling characteristics of the scent marks. Yet, we do not know whether an individual responds to changes in the signaling characteristics of its own scent marks, such as those associated with changes in an individual's reproductive state. Such changes may affect how and where an animal scent marks. Here we report on a series of experiments designed to test the hypothesis that individual meadow voles, Microtus pennsylvanicus, distinguish between scent marks they deposited when they were in different reproductive states. Results showed that voles discriminated their own scent marks from those of unfamiliar, same-sex conspecifics, and the scent marks of siblings. Voles did not behave as if they could distinguish between their own scent marks if the marks were deposited when the voles were in the same reproductive state, although the two scent marks used as stimuli differed in age by 30 d. However, they did so distinguish if they were exposed to scent marks taken when they were in different reproductive states. Overall, these findings suggest that voles behave as if their novel and familiar scent marks shared the similar signaling features. If, however, the reproductive condition of the voles differed when it provided the two scent marks, they behaved as if their own scent marks had different signal characteristics, which may have induced voles to treat the two scent marks as not being the same or having been deposited by two different donors. We speculate that the scent marks of individuals may have unique signaling characteristics that may be associated with that individual's 'current template for self'. © 2008 The Authors.

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