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Behavioral and endocrine correlates to reproductive failure in captive wolverines
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Department of Zoology.
2006 (English)In: Journal of Zoology, ISSN 0952-8369, E-ISSN 1469-7998, Vol. 269, 527-536 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Sociality in mammals is often viewed as a dichotomy, with sociality contrasted against solitariness. However, variation within these broad categories may have strong effects on individual fitness. For example, reproductive suppression of social subordinates is generally associated with group living, but suppression may also occur in solitary species if the behavioral and physiological processes involved can be modulated by the demographic environment. To investigate whether behavioral and physiological traits that normally are associated with group living might be latent even in a solitary species, we explored the level of sociality and investigated causes and mechanisms of reproductive failure in female wolverines Gulo gulo that experienced a highly aggregated social environment in captivity. Behaviorally, females showed low levels of aggression and intermediate levels of social interactions. Reproductive failure seemed to have been related to low social rank and to have occurred between ovulation and implantation in 13 out of 15 breeding attempts. However, three of eight females observed to mate produced offspring, indicating that no individual female fully managed to monopolize breeding. Reproductive failure was not related to elevated levels of glucocorticoid stress hormones. Rather, elevated glucocorticoid levels during the mating season were associated with successful reproduction. We suggest that social tendencies and physiological mechanisms mediating reproductive suppression may be viewed as reaction norms to the social environment. We further suggest that the social flexibility of solitary carnivores might be greater than is commonly observed, due to ecological constraints that may limit aggregation.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2006. Vol. 269, 527-536 p.
Keyword [en]
* social stress; * reproductive success; * sociobiology; * carnivore; * endocrinology
National Category
Biological Sciences
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-23905DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-7998.2006.00116.xOAI: diva2:195270
Part of urn:nbn:se:su:diva-544Available from: 2005-05-13 Created: 2005-05-13 Last updated: 2010-08-18Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Sociality in a solitary carnivore, the wolverine
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Sociality in a solitary carnivore, the wolverine
2005 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

The social organization of animal societies has important implications for several fields of biology, from managing wild populations to developing new ecological and evolutionary theory. Although much attention has been given to the formation and maintenance of societies of group living individuals, less is known about how societies of solitary individuals have been shaped and maintained. Traditionally, the evolution of social organizations in the mammalian order Carnivora has been regarded as a directional selection process from a solitary ancestry into progressively more advanced forms of sociality. In this thesis, I tested this model against an alternative model, assuming radiation from a socially flexible ancestry. I further explored sociality, resource use and dispersal of a solitary carnivore, the wolverine (Gulo gulo), in the light of these two evolutionary models. Phylogenetic reconstruction generally supported that carnivore social organizations evolved through directional selection from a solitary ancestor. However, results from captive wolverine females indicated that they might have rudimentary social tendencies, which rather support that sociality in carnivores radiated from a socially flexible ancestry. Wild wolverines in northwestern Brooks Range, Alaska, adhered to the commonly found ecological niche as a largely ungulate dependent generalist carnivore. Lack of sexual asymmetry in dispersal tendencies indicated that resource competition among wolverine females probably was high. I suggest that wolverines have latent abilities to aggregate, but that their phylogenetic legacy in terms of morphology has constrained them into an ecological niche where resource abundance and distribution generally inhibit aggregations. Due to contradictory results, I suggest further research to test evolutionary theory regarding carnivore social evolution, and particularly to explore new avenues into social evolution that better explain intra-specific variation in sociality, as well as formation and maintenance of solitary social systems.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Zoologiska institutionen, 2005. 19 p.
Sociality, carnivore, behaviour, ecology, spatial organisation
National Category
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-544 (URN)91-7155-088-7 (ISBN)
Public defence
2005-06-10, Nordenskiöldsalen, Geovetenskapens hus, Svante Arrhenius väg 8 C, Stockholm, 10:00
Available from: 2005-05-13 Created: 2005-05-13Bibliographically approved

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