The number of male conspecifics affects the odour preferences and the copulatory behaviour of male meadow voles, Microtus pennsylvanicus

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We hypothesized that male meadow voles adjust their odour preferences and sexual behaviours in response to the presence and number of male conspecifics they perceive to have visited a sexually receptive female conspecific. Male voles only preferred the odour of the female previously associated with 3 or 5 males to that of the unfamiliar female. Male voles also had a shorter latency to mate and a shorter mating duration when they were paired with the female that was previously associated with the bedding of 3 or 5 males compared to males paired with an unfamiliar female. Mating and reproductive success, however, were similar for males paired with either female. Thus, male voles use public information provided by scent marks of male conspecifics and adjust their responses in favour of a female that they perceive to been visited by several males, although she may represent a high risk of sperm competition.



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  • We exposed male subjects for 4 h to the bedding scented by 0–5 male donors plus the bedding scented by 0–1 female donor in the 12 conditions. Then 10 min after the 4-h exposure, male subjects underwent a 3-min odour preference test. We presented males in conditions 1–5, 7 and 8 with the scent mark of the female from their exposure phase and the scent mark of an unfamiliar female. We presented male subjects in conditions 9–12 with the scent mark of the male from their exposure phase and the scent mark of an unfamiliar male. The proportions capped with asterisks (∗∗∗) were statistically different from the other proportions at p<0.001 (pairwise comparisons, Holm–Sidák method).

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  • The mean ± SEM (min) latency to the first ejaculation of male subjects paired for 4 h with the female donor from their exposure phase in conditions 1–5. Bars capped with different letters were statistically different at p<0.001 (Holm–Sidák).

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  • The mean ± SEM (min) amount of time between the first and last ejaculation (mating bout duration) of male subjects paired for 4 h with the female donor from their exposure phase in conditions 1–5. Bars capped with different letters were statistically different at p<0.001 (Holm–Sidák).

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