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Scent marking in gerbils and its possible functions
Gromov V.S.
P. 113-126
Behaviors related to scent marking are compared and analyzed in males and females of four gerbil species (Meriones unguiculatus, M. tamariscinus, M. meridianus, and Psammomys obesus) observed in the wild and under semi-natural conditions. Scent-marking activity was found to vary in dependence on species, sex, age, reproductive conditions, social and territorial status of the individuals, and to show seasonal variation. The commonest patterns of scent marking are ventral rubbing and building up of ‘signal heaps’ with urine and feces. A close association between scent marking and social dominance was revealed in three species (M. unguiculatus, M. tamariscinus, M. meridianus). Spatial distribution of scent marks was found to be very uneven. Females marked most often the areas near burrow entrances, pathways and feeding sites. Males exhibited a higher rate of scent marking within home ranges of reproducing females. Inter-species differences in scent marking related to a species-specific space use systems and reproductive strategies were revealed. Results of the study partly support the scent-matching hypothesis and the status signaling hypothesis. However, these hypotheses do not predict spatial distribution of scent marks in male gerbils, and do not account for function of scent marking in young individuals as well as an increase of scent-marking activity induced by novelty factors. These findings are more consistent with the hypothesis of home range familiarization. Besides, scent marking in male gerbils could also function as a means of female monopolization.

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