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Communal Nesting in Asocial Abert's Squirrels: the Role of Social Thermoregulation and Breeding Strategy

Authors


Andrew J. Edelman, Department of Biology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131, USA. E-mail: andrewe@unm.edu

Abstract

The social thermoregulation hypothesis states that endothermic species will communally nest to reduce energy expenditures on thermoregulation. The hypothesis predicts that the frequency of communal nesting should increase with decreasing ambient temperature. The potential costs of communal nesting (e.g., increased predation risk, resource competition, cuckoldry, parasite/disease transmission, or infanticide) could decrease the frequency of communal nesting especially for asocial breeding females with dependent offspring. We examined the effects of ambient temperature and seasonal reproductive activities on the probability of communal nesting in Abert's squirrels (Sciurus aberti) in the Pinaleño Mountains, Arizona. Most squirrels nested consistently with the same partner in mixed-sex pairs. The proportion of individuals engaging in communal nesting increased with decreasing ambient temperature as predicted by the social thermoregulation hypothesis. The onset of the breeding season greatly reduced the proportion of individuals communally nesting. The negative relationship between ambient temperature and communal nesting supports the use of communal nesting in Abert's squirrels as a mechanism to reduce thermoregulatory costs during cold conditions. The abrupt drop in the frequency of communal nesting during the breeding season is likely due to female abandonment of this behavior. By avoiding communally nesting during the breeding season, females may prevent males from mating with them outside of mating chases, reduce resource competition, and protect offspring from infanticide, diseases, and parasites. Males may gain additional fitness benefits from nesting with females because familiarity with females increases dominance rank in mating activities.

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