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Keywords:

  • olfactory communication;
  • marking site selection;
  • common juniper;
  • urine marking behaviour;
  • intraspecific communication;
  • Volatile Organic Compounds

Abstract

This study documents the urine spraying behaviour of wildcats, Felis silvestris. Urine spraying is considered a short term visual mark and the main form of scent marking by felids. When urine spraying, a wildcat raises up its tail and ejects backwards a spray of urine against a prominent object of its surrounding environment. The selection of a urinating substrate should maximize the communicating value of the mark, but the factors that influence this selection are poorly understood. We hypothesized that urine spraying marks are not placed randomly, but that wildcats select marking post based on traits that enhance the effectiveness of the scent mark, by maximizing their detectability, diffusion or persistence. This study shows that wildcats select common juniper, Juniperus communis, to spray their urine mark on not because of the physical traits of the plant, but based on the species. The effectiveness of an olfactive mark has to do with the degradation and oxidation of its chemical components. The common juniper has a high concentration of volatile organic compounds (VOC) with antioxidant activity. We therefore suggest that wildcats can recognize the VOC composition of different plants, and based on its VOC, select those plants which could enhance the olfactory effectiveness of the mark. Thus, the recognition of volatile compounds in the surrounding environment should be important in the marking behaviour of wildcats.