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Social interactions associated with reproduction in the bushveld gerbil Gerbilliscus leucogaster

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The study of social behaviour can give us important insights into the social and mating system of a species or population. We investigated male–female interactions in captive bushveld gerbils, Gerbilliscus leucogaster, to gain insight into the social behaviour and mating structure. We conducted two experiments. In experiment 1, we studied the interactions between two strangers for a week in a three-tank setup, which tested behavioural variation spatially and temporally. Although tolerance between strange males and females increased with time, it remained generally low throughout the experiment. Females appeared to be cautious of males initially, but they later became aggressive towards them. Males showed an increase in submissive behaviour over time. The ‘home’ cage did not appear to be defended by either sex. In experiment 2, we investigated the social interactions of male–female pairs during pregnancy and lactation. Aggression persisted throughout the study and amicable behaviour was low; females were much more aggressive than males. We did not detect changes in social behaviour with the progression of pregnancy and lactation. We suggest that pair bonding is unlikely and that promiscuity is the most probable mating system. Female aggression may be related to mate choice prior to mating and mate exclusion thereafter, while it may be a response to infanticide risk during pregnancy and lactation.
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  • School of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Private Bag 3, Wits, 2050 Johannesburg, South Africa
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