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Food Deprivation and Restriction During late Gestation Affect the Sexual Behavior of Postpartum Female Meadow Voles, Microtus pennsylvanicus



Michael H. Ferkin, Department of Biological Sciences, The University of Memphis, Ellington Hall, Memphis, TN 38152, USA.



In many species of small mammals, including meadow voles, Microtus pennsylvanicus, females come into postpartum estrus (PPE) within 12–24 h of giving birth, allowing them to mate and become pregnant while raising the current litter. PPE females show increases in attractivity, proceptivity, and receptivity, the three components of sexual behavior, relative to females not in PPE. Several studies have shown that food deprivation and restriction reduce attractivity, proceptivity, and receptivity of females not in PPE. We tested the hypothesis that food deprivation and restriction during late gestation cause deficits and decrease the attractivity, proceptivity, and receptivity of females when they enter PPE. Our data support the hypothesis. On day 1 of lactation, females that were food deprived and food restricted produced scent marks that were significantly less attractive as those produced by control PPE females. Food deprivation but not food restriction caused females to no longer display significant preferences for the scent marks of males over those of females (proceptivity). Food deprivation and food restriction were sufficient to induce females to become significantly less sexually receptive than control females. Eleven of 12 control PPE females mated, 4 of 12 food-restricted females mated, and 3 of 12 food-deprived females mated. Dams facing food deprivation or restriction during late gestation may have to balance the benefits of mating during PPE with the increased costs associated with getting pregnant while they are lactating.