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Abstract

Many animals self-groom when they encounter the scent marks of opposite-sex conspecifics. Self-grooming transmits odiferous substances that contain information about the groomer’s condition, which is affected by its nutritional state. We tested the hypothesis that the amount of time that individuals self-groom to opposite-sex conspecifics is affected by the amount of protein in their diet and that of the scent donor. We did so by feeding meadow voles (Microtus pennsylvanicus) a diet containing 9%, 13%, or 22% dietary protein for 30 d and observing their self-grooming behavior when they were exposed to bedding scented by an opposite-sex conspecific (odor donor) fed one of the three diets, or fresh cotton bedding (control). The hypothesis was partially supported. We found that the protein content of the diet of male and female groomers did not affect the amount of time they self-groomed. However, the protein content of the diet of male odor donors affected the amount of time that female voles spent self-grooming. Female voles self-groomed more in response to male odor donors fed a 22% protein-content diet than to those produced by male odor donors fed either a 9% or a 13% protein-content diet. Interestingly, the amount of time males self-groomed was not affected by the protein content of the diet of the female odor donor. These results may, in part, be explained by the natural history of free-living meadow voles, sex differences in costs associated with mate attraction and reproduction, and the direct or indirect benefits that females receive from males fed a diet high in protein content.