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[The spatial relationships and social structure of gerbils in the genus Meriones (Gerbillinae, Rodentia)]

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Comparative analysis of spatial relations of 4 gerbil species (M. tamariscinus M. meridianus, M. libycus, M. unguiculatus) shows differences in the system of space use between species and within a species--between individuals of different sex. During reproduction period females are inclined to isolation, small overlap of home ranges and high degree of individualisation. Males occupy large home ranges overlapping with territories of several reproductive females. The territories occupied by the males of midday and tamarisk gerbils do not have clear boundaries and the level of their individualization is quite low. The males of Mongolian gerbil (M. unguiculatus) occupy well defined territories with high level of individualization. Spatial relations of M. libycus males are intermediate. The relationships of the males of three investigated species (M. meridianus, M. libycus, M. tamariscinus) being characterised by the high degree of asymmetry of pair connections, are organised according to the principle of agonistic dominance. Relationships between individuals of different family groups of Mongolian gerbils are based on the locus-dependent dominance, while within one family group-on principle of hierarchical subordination. The meaning of specific peculiarities in use of space and dominance relations are discussed in terms of reproductive strategies.
... In general, highly exclusive home ranges occupied by individuals of the same sex, a high proportion of aggressive encounters between any adult individuals, weak pair bonds, sole maternal care, and early offspring dispersal are characteristic of species with the spatial-andethological population structure of type I. Besides, seasonal dynamics of space use with formation of temporary aggregations of males competing for receptive females during the breeding seasons and both inter-male and inter-female spacing during the non-breeding seasons is also typical of this category of species. Type II represents multi-male-multi-female breeding colonies with primarily promiscuous mating, relatively weak pair bonds, and early offspring dispersal like in redbacked voles Clethrionomys glareolus and C. rutilus ( Naumov 1956;Mazurkiewicz 1971;Koshkina et al. 1972;West 1977;Osipova & Serbenyuk 1992;Bujalska 1994;Bujalska & Saitoh 2000) or Midday gerbils Meriones meridianus ( Popov et al. 1989;Gromov 1997) and some other gregarious rodent species ( Gromov 2008). The spatial structure of species belonging to this category can be described as follows. ...
... Besides, seasonal dynamics of space use with formation of relatively stable aggregations of males competing for the receptive females during the breeding season as well as winter aggregations that include unrelated individuals is also very typical of this category of rodent species. Type III is characteristic of species with relatively bonded breeding pairs or restricted family groups with early offspring dispersal as in the common vole Microtus arvalis ( Bashenina 1962;Boyce & Boyce III 1988;Zorenko 1994;Langsdale & Young 1999), the social vole Microtus socialis ( Kasatkin et al. 1998;Gromov 2008), the steppe lemming Lagurus lagurus ( Kokenova 2007), the Libyan gerbil Meriones libycus ( Daly & Daly 1975;Ågren 1979;Gromov 1997) and the prairie vole Microtus ochrogaster ( Getz & Hofmann 1986;Getz et al. 1993;Getz & McGuire 1997) as well as in some other rodent species ( Gromov 2008). As for the common vole, populations of this species at the breeding season were shown to consist of territorial males and non-territorial females ( Langsdale & Young 1999). ...
... Very little is known about parental responsiveness of males in the wild, but observations in captivity revealed that common vole males exhibited all the care-giving activities of females except lactation (Gromov 2011b). Similar features of the spatial-and-ethological population structure seem to be typical of the Libyan gerbil ( Daly & Daly 1975;Ågren 1979;Gromov 1997). Family groups of the social vole are considered primarily monogamous and commonly consist of a pair of adults and their offspring which include one or two litters. ...
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Comparative studies demonstrate that different mammalian species show substantial inter-specific variation in their mating strategies, social organization, and patterns of social behavior, especially parental related to tactile (somatosensory) stimulation of infants. In this chapter, I used data from previously published studies to show how the early social environment can affect the subsequent behavior of offspring related to parental responsiveness, pair (male-female) bond formation, and socialization in mammals. According to the social network concept, social interactions are very important for the development of infant mammals, and socialization processes differ in various social environments. Recent studies carried out mainly on some rodent species have shown that sociality means the formation of a complicated social structure (communicative complexity, Blumstein & Armitage 1997) that is characteristic of species living in family groups. In rodents, the family-group mode of life particularly means participation of both parents in direct care of the young related primarily to a higher rate of tactile stimulation of pups in the form of brooding (or huddling over) and licking (grooming). Early social contact between mother and offspring is proven to shape the neural and behavioral development of the young (Numan & Insel 2003; Numan et al. 2006). Experimental reductions in maternal licking produce behavioral deficits in adult male sexual behavior (Moor 1984), as well as in female parental responsiveness, especially the one related to brooding and grooming infants (Gonzalez et al. 2001; Gonzalez & Fleming 2002). The same reductions in paternal care related to brooding and grooming pups result in a decrease of adult male parental responsiveness and weakening pair bonds (Gromov 2009). These negative effects may also include aggression addressed to mates or even own offspring. In other words, artificially reared females become 'bad mothers' (Gonzalez et al. 2001), and father-deprived males become both 'bad mates' and 'bad fathers' (Gromov 2009, 2011). On the contrary, a higher rate of young-directed tactile stimulation results in adult individuals that are non-aggressive to their mates and offspring, more parentally responsive and behaviorally stable. The crucial importance of long-lasting tactile contact for the neural and behavioral development of the young is evident not only for non-human mammals but for primates and human as well (Harlow & Mears 1979; Johnson et al. 1992; Stern 1997). Thus, tactile stimulation of infants may prove to be an important factor affecting socialization processes in different mammal species living in family groups, and more over in humans.
... The author has carried out ecological and behavioural studies of the Mongolian gerbil in the wild (in Tuva region, southern Siberia, Russia), under semi-natural conditions (in large outdoor enclosures in Moscow region) and in a laboratory from 1976 to 2008, and has published a series of articles as well as two monographs (mainly in Russian) (Krylova & Gromov, 1977;Gromov & Popov, 1979;Sokolov & Gromov, 1998;Gromov, 1981Gromov, , 1992Gromov, , 1994Gromov, , 1997Gromov, , 2000aGromov, , b, 2009Gromov, , 2011aGromov, , b, 2015. In Tuva region, the study areas were semiarid grasslands intermixed with croplands and fallow fields. ...
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The present review provides a compilation of the published data on the ecology and social behaviour of Mongolian gerbils. Behavioural observations in the wild show that the Mongolian gerbil is a diurnal social rodent living in extended family groups. Seasonal breeding is typical of Mongolian gerbils in their natural habitat. Social monogamy seems to be characteristic of the Mongolian gerbil reproductive strategy, which however does not exclude facultative polygyny and promiscuity. A typical feature of the space use system in this species is territoriality. Social relationships in family groups may be defined as a subordination hierarchy. The hierarchy order is primarily determined by the age of the animals and maintained chiefly by the subordinates’ behaviour patterns. The complex social organisation in the Mongolian gerbil is characterised by cooperation in different activities. Cooperation appears to enhance the survival of family groups of this species under the extreme climatic conditions of Central Asia.
... Indeed, after a tracking period of eight months of 28 M. shawi, we estimated the diffusion coefficient, and we confirmed the strong relationship between the spatial patterns and availability of food. Previous studies of the spatial behavior of some rodents showed a broad range of HRs, from a few square meters to 9 ha depending on the species of rodents, the biotope nature, and the method used [23][24][25][26][27][28][29][30] . This high variability might be explained by the cross-sectional designs of most studies, which could not take into account the variation of HR through time or the high sampling fluctuations due to small sample sizes, as well as by the low reliability of estimation techniques such as field observation and capture-mark-recapture. ...
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A longitudinal study was designed to accurately measure the movements of Meriones (M.) shawi using geographic information systems and radio-telemetry tools. Radio collars were placed on the necks of 30 M. shawi on April 2012 and tracked by radio-telemetry until December 2012 in an endemic area of zoonotic cutaneous leishmaniasis in Tunisia. The mean home range, the mean of the maximum distance between the start and the final locations and the mean of the real traveled distance linking all detected positions for each rodent were calculated. Two coefficients of diffusion were estimated, corresponding to the pre-and post-harvest seasons, respectively. This study demonstrated and quantified, for the first time, the ecological niche and the migratory capacity of the M. shawi, and confirmed its crucial role in the geographical dispersal of Leishmania parasites and the emergence of epizootics and epidemics in new foci.
... meridianus), the populations of which contain aggregations of adult individuals with overlapping home ranges (type II). On the contrary, any aggressive interactions are rare in the species M. libycus (type III) and M. unguiculatus (type IV), while peaceful contacts prevail over the remaining interactions (Gromov, 1997). A decrease in the rate of aggressive interactions in this row of species reflects the change in reproductive strategies (from promiscuity to polygamy and monogamy), as well as the trend of the strengthening of pair bonds in the transition from type I to type IV, which well fits Lorenz's concepts of the mechanisms underlying the establishment of the bond in vertebrate animals. ...
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An analysis of the published and his own data on the social behavior of rodents has allowed the author to conclude that the most social species among rodents are those with a family-group mode of life. The direct effect of ecological factors on the establishment of a complex social organization in rodents remains disputable. Presumably, the driving factor that determines the evolution of sociality in rodents is cooperation, which is promoted by proximate mechanisms of socialization. A complex social organization can be formed under any ecological conditions when families are more competitive than solitary individuals due to cooperation in various types of activities. The proximate mechanisms of socialization, especially early experience of tactile stimulation, create the preconditions for strengthening the pair bonds and elevating the level of parental care in the individuals of both sexes, which is necessary for establishment of extended family groups. The research into these mechanisms is most promising for a deeper insight into the processes associated with the evolution of sociality in rodents, and the relevant results should be integrated into the current socioecological concept.
... (Mihok, 1976Mihok, , 1979 West 1977; Viitala, 1977; Kawata, 1985 Kawata, , 1988), the meadow vole Microtus pennsylvanicus (Madison, 1980a, b; Ostfeld et al., 1988) or the Midday gerbil Meriones meridianus (Popov et al. 1989). Type III is characteristic of species with relatively stable reproducing pairs or weakly consolidated family groups with early offspring dispersal like in the common vole Microtus arvalis (Boyce and Boyce III, 1988; Zorenko, 1994; Langsdale and Young, 1999), the social vole M. socialis (Kasatkin et al., 1998; Shilova and Kasatkin, 2000), the Libyan gerbil Meriones libycus (Daly and Daly, 1975; Ågren, 1979; Gromov, 1997) or the steppe lemming Lagurus lagurus (Gromov, 2008). Type IV represents structural family groups with biparental care, strong pair bonds (behavioral monogamy), delayed offspring dispersal, and complicated social organization related particularly to differentiation of behavioral roles, hierarchy of subordination, suppression of reproduction in offspring, etc., like in the Mongolian gerbil M. unguiculatus (Ågren et al., 1989; Gromov, 2008), the mandarin vole Lasiopodomys mandarinus (Smorkatcheva, 1999) or the Brandt's vole L. brandti (Zhang and Zhong, 1981; Fang and Sun, 1991; Wan et al., 1998; Zöphel, 1999; Gromov, 2008). ...
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Sociality in rodents means a family-group mode of life. Factors promoting pair-bonding and biparental care appear to be of crucial importance for evolution towards sociality. Social species differ from solitary ones because of a higher rate and lasting duration of tactile contact between mates (brooding and grooming) and direct care of young exhibited by both parents (especially brooding, huddling over and grooming pups). The results of my studies support the hypothesis that additional tactile stimulation of pups by parents, as well as limitation of such stimulation, can lead to substantial alteration of their subsequent behavior, especially parental one. Behavioral alteration caused by limitation of tactile stimulation was found to be expressed by weakening of pair-bonds and reduced paternal care. Tactile stimulation is considered a proximate mechanism promoting pair-bonding and a higher rate of paternal care. Paternal investment expressed by direct care of young seems to be an essential factor responsible for the evolution towards sociality in rodents.
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