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Scent Marking in Voles: A Reassessment of Over Marking, Counter Marking, and Self-Advertisement


Shawn A. Thomas Department of Biology, The University of Memphis, Memphis, TN 38152, USA. E-mail:


We conducted a series of experiments to discern among the counter-marking, over-marking, and self-advertisement hypotheses for secondary marking in male prairie voles, Microtus ochrogaster, and meadow voles, M. pennsylvanicus. Secondary scent marks (those placed in an area that has already been marked by a conspecific) were not significantly greater than initial marks placed on clean substrate (a substrate without any previous scent marks) for either species and thus did not support a counter-marking hypothesis. Similarly, overlapping of initial scent marks with secondary marks occurred less often than expected by chance and did not support an over-marking hypothesis. Secondary marks tended to avoid overlap with scent marks previously deposited by a potential competitor. Our results suggest that secondary scent marking functions to self-advertise by maximizing individual identity and avoiding masking or blending with previous donors. Future studies on secondary marking should be designed to quantify the observed and expected frequency and placement of original and secondary marks to discern among alternative hypotheses for the adaptive significance of secondary marking.

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