Scent-marking and intrasexual competition in a cooperative carnivore with low reproductive skew


C. Müller, Institute of Zoology, Animal Behaviour, University of Zurich, Winterthurerstrasse 190, 8057 Zurich, Switzerland. E-mail:


Most mammals scent-mark and a variety of hypotheses have been put forward to explain this behaviour. Differences in the main function of scent-marking between species are likely to be related to differences in social systems. Here, we investigate the functions of scent-marking in a cooperatively breeding carnivore. In the banded mongoose (Mungos mungo), individuals of both sexes commonly breed in their natal group and reproductive skew within groups is low. Using experimental scent-mark presentations, we tested predictions of the intrasexual competition, self-advertisement to potential mates and dominance assertion hypotheses. Both males and females responded more intensely to scent marks of same-sexed than of opposite-sexed individuals. Dominant individuals counter-marked more than subordinate ones and males showed higher counter-marking rates than females, but only marginally so. During oestrus, responses to scent marks were increased by both sexes. Our findings strongly indicate that scent-marking in the banded mongoose primarily serves a purpose in intrasexual competition both between and within groups. Unlike in other social herpestids and some solitary rodents, we found little evidence for self-advertisement. We suggest that the peculiar social system of the banded mongoose results in self-advertisement losing importance in this species, shifting the main function of scent-marking to intrasexual competition.