Meadow Voles (Microtus pennsylvanicus) and Prairie Voles (M. ochrogaster) Differ in Their Responses to Over-Marks from Opposite- and Same-Sex Conspecifics


Corresponding author: Michael H. Ferkin, Department of Biology, Ellington Hall, The University of Memphis, Memphis, TN 38152, USA. E-mail:


Over-marking occurs when one individual deposits its scent mark on the scent mark of a conspecific. Previous studies have shown that meadow voles (Microtus pennsylvanicus) and prairie voles (M. ochrogaster) that were exposed to an over-mark of two same-sex conspecifics, later responded similarly to the top-scent mark but differed in their response to the bottom-scent mark. In the present study, we examined the responses of meadow voles and prairie voles to same-sex and mixed-sex over-marks to ascertain whether their responses reflect the different tactics which males and females in promiscuous (meadow voles) and monogamous (prairie voles) species use to attract opposite-sex conspecifics and to compete with same-sex conspecifics. Males and females of both species spent more time investigating the mark of the top-scent donor than that of the bottom-scent donor of an over-mark. Meadow voles exposed to a mixed-sex over-mark spent more time investigating the mark of the opposite-sex conspecific independently of whether it was from the top- or bottom-scent donor. In contrast, prairie voles spent more time investigating the mark of the opposite-sex donor if it was from the top-scent donor. These results suggest that: (i) over-marking serves a competitive function; (ii) the scent marks of individuals attract multiple mates in promiscuous species such as the meadow vole; and (iii) the scent marks of individuals establish and maintain pair bonds between familiar opposite-sex conspecifics in monogamous species such as the prairie vole.