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Abstract

Scent over-marking occurs when an animal deposits its scent mark on top of the scent mark of a conspecific. Over-marking may provide advantages in the transfer of information to the individual whose scent is on top but not to the individual whose scent is on the bottom. We tested the hypothesis that over-marking is a competitive form of olfactory communication and that male prairie voles would over-mark the scent marks of same-sex conspecifics more than those of same-sex siblings. Two age-matched male voles (first male and second male) were placed successively into an arena in which they were allowed to explore freely and scent mark for 15 min at age 12, 20, 28, 36, 44, and 52 d. The first male was placed into a clean arena, whereas the second male was placed into an arena containing either the scent marks of an age-matched male sibling or nonsibling. Age affected the total number of scent marks deposited by the voles; 12-20-d-old voles deposited fewer scent marks, over-marks and adjacent marks than did 28-52-d-old voles. Sibship did not affect the total number of scent marks deposited by the first and second voles but did affect the number of over-marks and adjacent marks deposited by the second vole. Siblings received significantly fewer over-marks and adjacent marks than did nonsiblings; this effect was most dramatic after the voles reached 28 d of age, a time coincident with the onset of puberty. Males separated from siblings and housed singly at 44-d-old and tested at 52-d-old, deposited significantly more over-marks and adjacent marks in arenas if the first vole was a nonsibling than if it was a sibling. This differential scent-marking supports the hypothesis that over-marking and adjacent marking are used as competitive forms of olfactory communication by male prairie voles.