The subantarctic fur seal pup switches its begging behaviour during maternal absence

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Begging signals from the young are used to elicit parental care. Although honest and parent-directed signalling seems to be widely shared characteristic of begging behaviour, offspring might modify their strategy under some ecological or environmental constraints. In the subantarctic fur seal, Arctocephalus tropicalis, mothers forage at sea for 2–3 weeks at a time throughout the lactation period, resulting in regular separations of mothers and pups. Using playback experiments we investigated modifications of pups' begging behaviour during their mother's absence. From the 1st to the 5th day of maternal absence, pups rarely begged in response to other adult females' vocalizations (17.6–46.7% of tested pups), but always responded specifically to their mother's. After its mother had been absent for 5–10 days, the pup's response to playback of strange females' calls was stronger (46–69% of tested pups), but the specificity of the response to the mother remained. However, after the 11th day of maternal absence, pups become highly responsive to calls made by any adult female (up to 37% of tested pups). The variation in responsiveness of fur seal pups during their mother's absence may be explained by changes in their motivational state that were linked to their internal nutritional balance.

Les signaux de quémande sont utilisés par les jeunes pour déclencher les soins parentaux. Bien que l'honnêteté des signaux et le fait qu'ils s'adressent aux parents soient des caractéristiques habituelles du comportement de quémande, les jeunes peuvent modifier leur stratégie dans certaines conditions écologiques. Chez l'otarie à fourrure subantarctique, Arctocephalus tropicalis, les mères cherchent leur nourriture en mer pendant 2–3 semaines, occasionnant ainsi de fréquentes séparations mère-petit durant toute la période d'allaitement. Nous avons noté les modifications du comportement des jeunes à l'emission d'enregistrement de cris de femelles adultes pendant l'absence de la mère. Durant les 5 premiers jours d'absence de la mère, les petits répondent peu aux cris des femelles adultes (17,6–46,7 % des jeunes testés), mais toujours spécifiquement à ceux de leur propre mère. Des jours 5–10, les jeunes répondent de plus en plus fortement aux cris de femelles (46–69 % des jeunes testés), mais toujours de façon spécifique aux cris de leur mère. Ce n'est qu'à partir du 11ème jour d'absence de la mère que les petits se mettent à répondre fortement aux cris d'autres femelles adultes (jusqu'à 37 % des jeunes). La variation des réactions des jeunes otaries en l'absence de leur mère peut s'expliquer par des modifications de leur motivation en rapport avec leur équilibre énergétique interne.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: July 1, 2002

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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