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Cooperative breeding and monogamy in prairie voles: Influence of the sire and geographical variation

Mammalian monogamy is characterized by pair bonding and a relative absence of sexual dimorphism in body size. Alloparental behaviour is a characteristic of mammalian cooperative breeding systems. Studies of prairie voles, Microtus ochrogaster, from stock captured in a resource-abundant habitat in Illinois have supported the assumption that this species is a monogamous, cooperative breeder, while other studies of prairie voles from a more arid habitat in Kansas have called this assumption into question. We hypothesized that reported differences between these populations represented true intraspecific variation. Patterns of sexual dimorphism in body size, partner preferences and parental contact behaviour were compared in prairie voles from stocks originating in Illinois or Kansas. Both Illinois and Kansas voles showed a strong preference for a familiar partner, which is suggestive of monogamy. Sexual dimorphism in body size was observed in Kansas, but not Illinois voles. Illinois voles displayed significantly higher levels of parental contact behaviour than did voles from Kansas. When animals from Illinois and Kansas were crossed, the expression of parental contact behaviour of the 'hybrid' offspring followed the pattern seen in the population of origin of the sire. Removal of the sire prior to the birth of the litter increased alloparenting in Kansas voles, but removal of the sire was associated with lower levels of alloparenting in Illinois voles. Thus, some traits associated with the social system may show intraspecific variation and can be influenced by the presence or absence of the sire during rearing. (C) 1998 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour


Roberts, RL., Williams, JR., Wang, AK., & Carter Porges, C. (1998). Cooperative breeding and monogamy in prairie voles: Influence of the sire and geographical variation. Animal Behaviour, 55, 1131-1140. https://doi.org/10.1006/anbe.1997.0659

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