Body Weight and Rearing Conditions of Males, Female Choice and Paternities in a Small Mammal, Cavia aperea


Oliver Adrian, Department of Behavioural Biology, University of Münster, Badestrasse 13, 48149 Münster, Germany.


Patterns of mate choice may be important determinants of a species’ social organisation and mating system. At least two different aspects of female mate choice can be distinguished: choice of a social partner and choice of the genetic father of the offspring. Different characteristics of males can qualify them for these two roles. Although social and reproductive partners have been shown to differ in many species, social association times are often used in laboratory choice tests to infer reproductive preferences. The traits for which females may choose partners are diverse. Body size can correlate with the male’s strength in defending resources or other abilities benefiting the female and her offspring. In species living in social groups, social skills learned from group members during infancy can be important for later reproductive success. In this laboratory study, we conducted choice tests with wild cavies, Cavia aperea, a harem-living species of South American rodents, to determine social preferences of females towards two simultaneously available males. For offspring sired during these tests, paternities were determined by microsatellite DNA profiling. Males used in the tests differed in body weight and in rearing conditions: Half of the males had been reared in the presence or absence of their father, respectively. Male rearing conditions had no effect on either female social preferences or paternities. Females significantly preferred heavier males as social partners. In five of six tests, the heavier male also sired the offspring. Sires were in most cases but not consistently socially preferred. Heavier males may be preferable as social partners because they are better able to provide females with resources or have more experience in paternal care or predator avoidance as weight correlates with age. When choosing reproductive partners, females may prefer other male traits and the distribution of paternities may also be influenced by sperm competition.