Sexual differences in responses of meadow voles to environmental cues in the presence of mink odor


In rodents, defensive behaviors increase the chances of survival during a predator encounter. Observable rodent defensive behaviors have been shown to be influenced by the presence of predator odors and nearby environmental cues such as cover, odors from conspecifics and food availability. Our experiment tested whether a predator scent cue influenced refuge preference in meadow voles within a laboratory setting. We placed voles in an experimental apparatus with bedding soaked in mink scent versus olive oil as a control across from four tubes that either contained (a) a dark plastic covering, (b) opposite-sex conspecific odor, (c) a food pellet, or (d) an empty, unscented space. A three-way interaction of tube contents, subject sex, and the presence of mink or olive oil on the preference of meadow voles to spend time in each area of the experimental apparatus and their latency to enter each area of the apparatus revealed sex differences in the environmental preference of meadow voles facing the risk of predation. The environmental preference of female, but not male, meadow voles was altered by the presence of mink urine or olive oil. A similar trend was found in the latency of males and females to enter each area of the experimental apparatus. These differences suggest that each sex utilizes different methods to increase their fitness when experiencing a predation risk. The observed sex differences may be explained by the natural history of voles owing to the differences in territorial range and the dynamics of evasion of terrestrial predators.

Publication Title

Animal Cognition