Why are Male Columbian Ground Squirrels Territorial?


Theodore G. Manno, Department of Biological Sciences, 331 Funchess Hall, Auburn University, Auburn, AL 36849, USA. E-mail: tmanno@prescott.edu


Male territorial defence is a component of many vertebrate mating systems and is often regarded as a tactic for acquiring mates. Traditionally considered within the context of overt site-specific defence, territoriality actually may have several components which encompass a variety of behavioural tactics (e.g. post-copulatory mate-guarding, defence of resources that females need, defence of area around females) that underlie a mating system. The purpose of our study was to evaluate such influences on the territorial behaviour of male Columbian ground squirrels in southwestern Alberta, Canada. Males were dominant and territorial if they defended a minimum convex polygon activity range by chasing other males more within the activity range than they were chased. Subordinate males had no territory and were chased throughout their ranges, but they competed for mates by increasing chases in their activity range when nearby females were oestrous. Dominant males exhibited conditional breeding tactics, tending to chase other dominant males from their territory when nearby females were oestrous, but travelling outside their activity ranges to chase subordinate males when females were not oestrous. Although females mated first with a dominant male on whose territory they resided (and in order from oldest to youngest if several territories overlapped), mating pairs were not exclusive, as females usually mated with additional males. Males also guarded females after copulation and defended females directly just before oestrus, rather than defending territory per se during those times. Thus, males possess a repertoire of behaviours that complement site-specific territoriality, and territory ownership serves to facilitate a first mating with females that live on the territory.