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Scent-marking behaviour by stallions: an assessment of function in a reintroduced population of Przewalski horses (Equus ferus przewalskii)

Authors

  • S. R. B. King,

    1. School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, Queen Mary, University of London, London, UK
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    • *Current address: Steppe Forward Programme, Biology Faculty, National University Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

  • J. Gurnell

    1. School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, Queen Mary, University of London, London, UK
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Correspondence
John Gurnell, School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, Queen Mary, University of London, London E1 4NS, UK. Tel: +44 20 7882 3041; Fax: +44 20 8983 0973
Email: j.gurnell@qmul.ac.uk

Abstract

Scent marking is a common form of intraspecific communication in mammal species, and using faeces or urine is a cost-effective way of signalling competitive ability and resource holding power. Marking is ritually performed by male equids, and here we assess the function of male scent-marking behaviour in a recently introduced population of Przewalski horses Equus ferus przewalskii in Mongolia. Two forms of scent marking were observed: defecation on stud piles formed from repeated dunging in the same place, and overmarking of faeces and urine of mares. Stud piles were marked with dung by the harem holder and sniffed before and after dung was deposited. They were not found specifically at the periphery of harem ranges but occurred for the most part along routes used by the horses, and were more common in the core parts of harem ranges or where harem ranges overlapped. Thus, rather than being used to defend range boundaries, stud piles were placed predominantly where they would be encountered by male intruders. Mare excreta were covered with urine by the stallion, but were only sniffed before they were marked, not after. These marks appear to advertise to the mare and other, intruding stallions that the harem holder was the mare's consort and that the interloper should not risk trying to steal the mare or sneak a mating. Thus, the two forms of marking by harem holders appear to combine as first and second lines of defence of paternity rights in male intrasexual competition.

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