FROSTBURG, MD (December 4, 2013) Mating with more than one male increases reproductive success for female prairie dogs, despite an increase in risks. This is according to a new study published in The Journal of Mammalogy by behavioral ecologist John Hoogland, Professor at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science's Appalachian Laboratory.
Mating entails significant costs such as increased susceptibility to predation and increased exposure to diseases and parasites. So why would a female prairie dog take the risk to mate with multiple males? The answer is simple and clear: female prairie dogs that mate with two or more males rear more offspring than those that mate with only one.
"Prairie dogs are excellent models for a study of polyandry because they are easy to livetrap, mark, and observe. Further, each female is sexually receptive for only 5-6 hours of a single day each year, so my students and I can record all the males with whom she mates during that small window of opportunity," says Hoogland. "Finally, females remain in the same territory after mating, so we can determine reproductive success for all the females in our study-colony each year."
For the last 35 years, Hoogland has studied four species of prairie dogs living in grassland ecosystems within national parks or wildlife refuges in the western U.S. These species are black-tailed, Gunnison's, Utah, and white-tailed prairie dogs. From observations of marked individuals, Hoogland recorded the number of sexual partners and reproductive success for females of all four species.
Prairie dogs are herbivorous rodents of the squirrel family, and forage aboveground from dawn until dusk. They live in colonies of territorial, contiguous family groups that contain one or two sexually mature adult males, three or four sexually mature adult females, and one or two sexually immature yearling males.
Hoogland quantified female reproductive suc
|Contact: Amy Pelsinsky|
University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science