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Effects of phenology and sex on social proximity in a gregarious ungulate

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Structure in sociality is known to relate to intrinsic and extrinsic factors. Less understood are the mechanics of sociality expressed as fine-scale behaviours that maintain hierarchies, mediate competition, or transmit pathogens. A recent novel approach to quantifying fine-scale social behaviour has been to use proximity-logging biotelemetry collars. This technology continuously records data whenever collars are within a predefined distance of each other, at times of day, and in habitats where traditional ethological approaches to focal-individual sampling of behaviours are unfeasible. We tested a series of expectations on fine-scale (≤1.4 m) interaction rates and durations consistent with competing hypotheses of seasonal and sexual segregation for elk (Cervus canadensis Erxleben, 1777). Female–female dyads interacted 4 times more frequently than male–male dyads (mean interaction rate per year: female–female = 62 vs. male–male = 14; P < 0.001), and male–male interactions were 1.5 times longer in duration than female–female interactions (mean interaction length: female–female = 30 s vs. male–male = 45 s; P < 0.001). We propose that fine-scale interactions among members of a population can be modeled as a trade-off between the frequency (quantity) and the duration (quality) of interactions. Our results have implications for understanding sex-based differences in sociality in gregarious herbivores and for disease transmission, which may follow from social intercourse.

Keywords: Cervus canadensis; behaviour; comportement; disease; elk; maladie; sexual segregation; sociality; socialité; ségrégation sexuelle; wapiti

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Biology, University of Saskatchewan, 112 Science Place, Saskatoon, SK S7N 5E2, Canada. 2: Raincoast Conservation Foundation, P.O. Box 86, Denny Island, BC V0T 1B0, Canada.

Publication date: 2013-01-01

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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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