Olfactory Choice for Decomposition Stage in the Burying Beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides: Preference or Aversion?
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Sensory cues predicting resource quality are drivers of key animal behaviors such as preference or aversion. Despite the abundance of behavioral choice studies across the animal kingdom, relatively few studies have tested whether these decisions are driven by preference for one choice or aversion to another. In the burying beetle Nicrophorus vespilloides, adult pairs exhibit parental care to raise their offspring on a small carrion resource. We tested whether carrion decomposition stage affected brood quantity and quality and found that mating pairs had significantly more offspring on fresher carcasses. To determine whether this observed reproductive benefit correlates with maternal preference behavior, we conducted a series of olfactory trials testing mated female preferences for mouse carcasses of differing decomposition stages. When given the option between fresh and older carcasses, females associated significantly more with fresher, 1-day old carcasses. However, this behavior may be driven by aversion, as females that were given a choice between the 7-day old carcass and a blank control spent significantly more time in the control chamber. We characterized volatile organic compound profiles of both carcass types, highlighting unique compounds that may serve as public information (sensu lato) conveying resource quality information to gravid beetles.
author list (cited authors)
Delclos, P. J., Bouldin, T. L., & Tomberlin, J. K.