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Sex and the Single Vole: Effects of Social Grouping on Prairie Vole Reproductive Success


Karen E. Hodges, Wildlife Biology Program, School of Forestry, University of Montana, Missoula, MT 59812, USA. E-mail:


Prairie voles (Microtus ochrogaster) have a mating system that is primarily monogamous with paired males and females together defending breeding space against intruders of either sex. Breeding success may be affected when other adults intrude on the territorial space of pairs. We conducted an experiment to determine the impact of additional members of either sex on reproductive success of pairs. In laboratory arenas, we formed pairs (1F:1M) and two kinds of triad (2F:1M, 1F:2M). Females in pairs had the highest conception rates, litter sizes and survival of litters. Females in 1F:2M groups had slightly reduced litter sizes and reduced numbers of weanlings, and some females had litters sired by both males. Females in 2F:1M groups had low conception rates and the smallest litters, and >35% of their litters suffered infanticide; in no case did both females become pregnant. Throughout the trials, individuals of the sex doubly represented in triads were more likely to die than were individuals of the sex singly represented. We conclude that there may be fitness costs associated with the presence of unrelated supernumerary adults during gestation and lactation.