Spatial organization and monogamy in the mara Dolichotis patagonum

Authors

  • A. B. Taber,

    1. Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Department of Zoology, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PS
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    • *Wildlife Conservation International, New York Zoological Society, Bronx, New York 10460 USA

  • D. W. Macdonald

    1. Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Department of Zoology, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PS
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Abstract

Maras, Dolichotis patagonum, were observed and radio-tracked in Argentina. They travelled as monogamous pairs that bred either alone at solitary burrows or communally at settlements where up to 29 pairs shared warrens.

Members of a mara settlement grazed within 2.5 km of the communal warrens, using intensively about 1 ha per day, within drifting daily ranges of 11 ha, seasonal ranges of 98 ha and annual ranges of 193 ha.

Their home ranges drifted continuously. Consequently, the long-term movements of neighbouring pairs overlapped substantially, but at any given moment they were territorially spaced.

Monogamous, drifting territoriality is explained by the patchy dispersion of food, the need to minimize interference competition, and a cycle of grazing and fallowing in the use of food plants.

Two hypotheses explaining the adaptive significance of settlements are evaluated: one relates to resource availability (through the indirect effect of ground water and sheep dung on vegetation); and the other relates to predation (through the protective influence of human dwellings). The size of sheep flocks grazing at outstations during January provide a measure of the resource richness of patches where maras graze, and the richness of these patches in the dry season appear to limit the number of maras breeding at each settlement during the following wet season.

Maras face extremes of resource dispersion between the wet and dry seasons: in the former, sparsely dispersed grazing and interference competition favour spacing out and territoriality; in the latter, clumping of resources facilitates pairs congregating in herds around outstations and dry lagoons. Superimposed upon the ecological factors favouring spacing out during the wet season are the sociological factors that cause the maras to den communally. The resulting compromise is a social system unique among mammals.

Ancillary