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Behavioural mechanisms at latrines



Animal Behaviour, Volume 63,Number 5, May 2002, pp. 999-1007(9) - Academic Press


Stewart P.D.; MacDonald D.W.; Newman C.; Tattersall F.H. from the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at the University of Oxford


We investigated the behavioural mechanisms by which badgers receive and transmit information at shared defecation sites (latrines). We surveyed locations of 143 latrines to establish factors influencing latrine position, and monitored the behaviour of badgers at latrines. Badger latrines were significantly closer to tree trunks than were random samples, and were more likely to be associated with conifers than broadleafs. This may serve to protect scent marks from erosion. Latrines were also placed more closely to linear features than expected; linear features may channel the movements of badgers, promoting discovery of latrines. Within latrines, badgers differed in their placement of faeces and subcaudal scent marks. Faeces were placed in a subset of pits, which were used for several consecutive nights, then abandoned for another subset of pits. Subcaudal scent (squat) marks were positioned in prominent places, and there was no consistent tendency to overmark. Meetings were rare at latrines. Sniffing was the most common behaviour, and was focused on defecation sites. At least three distinct behaviours that appear to serve an information transfer function were observed: squat marking; defecation; and digging and scuffing. Squat marking and defecation were performed by all age and sex classes, and may have a role in cross-territorial communication. Digging and scuffing were associated with mating, and may communicate breeding condition. The wide range of marking behaviours, compounded by the lack of any clearly sex-limited behaviour at latrines, suggests a multiplicity of roles in the social lives of all age and sex classes of badgers.

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