Dissertation Defense Announcement

College of Arts and Sciences announces the Final Dissertation Defense

Ryan Scauzillo

for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy

March 18, 2022 at 09:00 AM in Ellington Hall, Room:  131

Advisor: Michael H. Ferkin

The role of social information, its context, and how it affects the olfactory communication behaviors and preferences of meadow voles, Microtus pennsylvanicus.       

ABSTRACT: "When choosing a mate, individuals often independently assess opposite-sex conspecifics based on specific attributes. While independently assessing conspecifics may garner strong fitness benefits, it comes with costs including time spent searching for mates and trial-and-error of assessing mates. Fortunately, animals can gain ‘social information’ by viewing the interactions and decisions of others. When animals act upon the information gathered, they are engaging in non-independent mate choice. Most studies that examine non-independent mate choice have been conducted with visually oriented species, but social information can be gained through other means, such as olfaction. Communication via odors can convey a wide range of information, persists in the environment, and is interactable. Thus, it creates opportunities for social information with a greater variety of different contexts. I examined how social information, and its context, affects meadow vole (Microtus pennsylvanicus) olfactory communication behaviors and preferences. Females were not affected by social information when demonstrating preferences for males or their odors and scent marking towards males. Female meadow voles appear to be assessing males independently. Male olfactory communication behaviors and preferences, on the other hand, where found to be affected by social information context. Male meadow voles showed flexibility with both self-grooming and scent marking behaviors modulating their behaviors based on specific contexts of the number of rivals and/or age of the rivals. These effects on scent marking appear have a temporal component; they occur only when the male had previously encountered the social information but not when social information was present during the test. This behavioral flexibility, including the ability to assess social information, likely enables males to make better decisions on which female to advertise to, therefore increasing his fitness. Overall, these findings indicate that the meadow voles’ natural history, specifically during the breeding season, has shaped how they will respond to social information. Meadow vole’s promiscuous mating system means that for a female vole, social information may not always be reliable due to males’ consistent movement but for male voles, social information may provide an indication of which females he should pursue and which he should avoid."