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Post-weaning social behaviour within mother–offspring groups of the bushveld gerbil Gerbilliscus leucogaster: implications for dispersal

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Author(s): Tracy Kim Lötter

Journal: African Zoology
ISSN 1562-7020

Volume: 47;
Issue: 2;
Date: 2013;
Original page

Keywords: Gerbilliscus leucogaster | mother-offspring interactions | natal dispersal | natal philopatry | sibling interactions

ABSTRACT
Social behaviour has been implicated in the natal dispersal of several small mammal species. We studied social interactions within groups of bushveld gerbil Gerbilliscus leucogaster mothers and their weaned offspring in captivity. We examined groups over several weeks to assess whether mothers and juveniles tolerate one another beyond weaning, and to investigate behavioural influences surrounding the onset of dispersal. Each group was placed in a series of interconnecting tanks, allowing juveniles free movement between tanks but restricting the movement of the mother. In two of eight groups the mother produced a second litter during the study; mothers in these two groups appeared to be less tolerant of their first litter compared to mothers in the remaining groups. The remaining groups showed very high levels of tolerance throughout the study, both between mothers and their offspring, and between siblings. Juveniles began showing independence from the mother around weaning, but although independent behaviour increased with juvenile age, there was no clear breakdown of the mother-offspring bond. In the wild, offspring probably disperse passively at around 5–6 weeks old if no subsequent litter is born. However, the high tolerance within these groups indicates that philopatry and group formation is also possible, which could be adaptive under some circumstances.
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