Social Behaviour and Cooperative Breeding in Arctic Foxes, Alopex lagopus (L.), in a Semi-natural Environment

Authors

  • Cecilia Kullberg,

    1. Department of Zoology, Stockholm University, Stockholm
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      Kullberg, C. & Angerbjörn, A. 1992: Social behaviour and cooperative breeding in Arctic foxes, Alopex lagopus (L.), in a semi-natural environment. Ethology 90, 321–335.

  • Anders Angerbjörn

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Zoology, Stockholm University, Stockholm
      Department of Zoology, Stockholm University, S-106 91 Stockholm.
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      Kullberg, C. & Angerbjörn, A. 1992: Social behaviour and cooperative breeding in Arctic foxes, Alopex lagopus (L.), in a semi-natural environment. Ethology 90, 321–335.


Department of Zoology, Stockholm University, S-106 91 Stockholm.

Abstract

Most canid species show cooperative breeding at least occasionally. The helper-at-the-den system, when extra adults serve as helpers by feeding and guarding the cubs of an alpha pair, has been observed but not studied in any detail in wild Arctic foxes (Alopex lagopus). During a 3-months study of arctic foxes in two enclosures of 4 ha each, we measured the social behaviour during the reproductive season. Older foxes dominated younger ones and males dominated females of the same age. A litter with one surviving cub was born in one enclosure. The alpha male increased his rate of urine marking and barking and fed the alpha female both before and after the birth of the litter. However, about 10 days after the birth, the alpha female died. The cub was fed by his putative father, his sister and his brother (both one year old). The one year old female increased her rate of territorial defence, measured as urine marking and barking, when the mother died. The subordinate females were probably suppressed from breeding by the high aggression levels and territorial defence of the dominant females in each enclosure. The dominant female in the second enclosure came into heat after the death of the alpha female (her mother) in the first enclosure. These changes in behaviour can probably be explained by sexual inhibition by the alpha female while she was present. The significance of territorial defence and dominance, inbreeding avoidance, sexual suppression and evolution of helping behaviour are discussed.

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