Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Abstracts: The function of contrasting pelage markings in artiodactyls

The function of contrasting pelage markings in artiodactyls Behav. Ecol. Caro and Stankowich 21: 78  DOI:10.1093/beheco/arp165

Comparative studies of pelage coloration in mammals suggest that certain prominent markings on an otherwise uniform pelage background serve in communication. We matched the position and coloration of contrasting markings on the bodies of all even-toed ungulates to ecological and social variables in order to ask whether marks are used in communication generally, as a signal to predators, or as a signal to conspecifics. Controlling for phylogeny, we found that many marks are located in prominent visible positions on the body; that flank marks seem to amplify stotting and leaping, which are pursuit deterrent signals; and that front leg marks may amplify foot stamping, an antipredator signal. We found that upper leg markings, particularly markings on the podials, are associated with group living hinting at an intraspecific communicatory function. Surprisingly, we found that contrasting marks do not reliably indicate position of scent glands across this taxon and that many white marks may have a cryptic function. These results extend and contradict those of previous analyses and force us to conclude that contrasting pelage marks have a number of functions in this taxon including pursuit deterrence, intraspecific signaling, and possibly even crypsis

Generally, research has focused on conspicuous markings on artiodactyls (artiodactyls with an even number of toes) as being intraspecific signals - that is, between one Roe deer and another, or a Moose and more different Moose. The figure I posted came from Ecology and Management of North American Moose, where they repeat the line about within-species signalling.  The idea of interspecific signalling - say a signal from a moose to a wolf - is very interesting. It's pretty clear that that pelage markings in deer is more complex than purely sexual signalling.

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