Scent marks of rodents can provide information to conspecifics
For a scent mark to be informative it must provide a reliable, honest signal that allows individuals that detect it to predict fitness tradeoffs if they choose or not choose to respond to it. I argue that scent marks provide a great deal of information about the sender to receivers. The manner in which an animal uses this information to make decisions will depend on the context and manner in which it encounters these scent marks. Receivers can use the information found in the scent marks and odors to locate the donor, learn its identity, determine the donor’s phenotype or genotype, and assess whether the scent marks were encountered earlier by conspecifics. For receivers to make potentially informed decisions, when they encounter the scent marks of conspecifics with whom they have had different experiences across a variety of contexts higher level cognitive processing involving procedural memory, episodic memory, autobiographical memory and making judgements of numerical discrimination would be required. Senders should have some insight into the receivers to increase the likelihood that the targets respond appropriately to the scent mark by reducing uncertainty. The sender’s state or the current state of the environment and the context will affect when and where the scent marks were deposited. Decisions to deposit scent marks and respond to them must represent a tradeoff in the benefits and costs to the sender and receivers in terms of their fitness and survival. The actual tradeoff should be context dependent and reflect the experience, physiology, and life history constraints affecting the receiver. Calculating these tradeoffs likely involves some cognitive processing and requires some sort of information transfer between the sender and the receiver.
KeywordsInformation Odor communication Scent marks Signal value
I thank Dr. Javier delBarco-Trillo, Karl Rohrer, Ryan Scauzillo, Adam Ferkin, and two anonymous reviewers for reading earlier versions of this manuscript. The writing of this manuscript was supported by funds from the Jack H. Morris Distinguished Professorship.
The writing of this manuscript was supported by funds from the Jack H. Morris Distinguished Professorship.
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest
The Author, Michael Ferkin, declares that he has no conflict of interest.
All applicable international, national, and institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. Specifically, I followed Animal Care Protocol 0731, which was approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee at The University of Memphis, and guidelines of the American Society of Mammalogists for research involving live mammals. This study does not contain any studies with human participants performed by the author.
- Danchin E, Giraldeau L-A, Valone TJ, Wagner RH (2005) Defining the concept of public information-response. Science 308:355–356Google Scholar
- Danchin E, Giraldeau L-A, Wagner RH (2008) An information-driven approach to behavior. In: Danchin E, Giraldeau L-A, Cezilly F (eds) Behavioural ecology. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
- Fischer J (2010) Where is the information in animal communication? In: Menzel R, Fischer J (eds) Animal thinking: contemporary issues in in comparative cognition. MIT Press, Cambridge, pp 151–182Google Scholar
- Fisher HS, Swaisgood RR, Fitch-Snyder H (2003) Countermarking by male pygmy lorises (Nycticebus pygmaeus): do females use odour cues to select mates with high competitive ability? Behav Ecol Sociobiol 53:123–130Google Scholar
- Franklin S, Ferkin MH (2008) Using broad cognitive models to apply computational intelligence to animal cognition. In: Smolinski TG, Milanova MM, Hassanien A-E (eds) Applications of computational intelligence in biology: current trends and open problems. Springer, Berlin, pp 363–394CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Johnston RE, delBarco-Trillo (2009) Communication by chemical signals: behavior, social recognition, hormones and the role of the vomeronasal and olfactory systems. In: Pffaf D, Arnold AP, Fahrbach SE, Etgen AM, Rubin RT (eds) Hormones, brain, and behavior, vol 2. Elsevier Science, New York, pp 797–870Google Scholar
- Roberts SC (2007) Scent marking. In: Wolff JO, Sherman PW (eds) Rodent societies: an ecological and evolutionary perspective. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp 255–266Google Scholar
- Smith WJ (1980) The behavior of communicating: an ethological approach. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
- Thiessen DD (1977) Thermoenergetics and the evolution of pheromone communication. In: Sprague JM, Epstein AN (eds) Progress in psychobiology and physiological psychology, vol 7. Academic, New York, pp 91–191Google Scholar
- Thom MD, Hurst JL (2004) Individual recognition by scent. Ann Zool Fenn 41:765–787Google Scholar
- Tinnesand HV, Buesching CD, Noonan MJ, Newman C, Zedrosser A, Rosell F, Macdonald DW (2015) Will tresspassers be prosecuted or assessed according to their merits? A consilient interpretation of territoriality in a group-living carnivore, the European badger (Meles meles). PLoS One 10:e0132432CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Wheeler BC, Searcy WA, Christiansen MH et al (2010) Communication. In: Menzel R, Fischer J (eds) Animal thinking: contemporary issues in in comparative cognition. MIT Press, Cambridge, pp 187–208Google Scholar
- Wyatt TD (2014) Pheromones and animal behavior: chemical signals and signatures. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar