A comparative study of agonistic behaviour in hairy-footed gerbils of the genus Gerbillurus (Shortridge, 1942)
Agonistic behaviour was investigated by means of staged encounters in three species and two subspecies of deserticolous rodents of the genus Gerbillurus Indiviuals of the species G.paeba paeba, G.paeba exilis, G. tytonis, G. setzeri, and G. vallinus were used in intraspecific and interspecific encounters. Intraspecific territoriality was tested in animals of the same sex G.paeba paeba, G. tytonis, and G. setzeri Analysis of agonistic behaviour permitted identification of four groups of behaviours in most classes of intraspecific encounters. These were "exploratory and solitary", "aggressive", "submissive", and "sexual" behaviours. Males of four species were less aggressive than females in same-sex encounters, and were dominated by females in different-sex encounters; the reverse was observed in G. setzeri. Male G. tytonis and G. setzeri were more tolerant of conspecifics in the territoriality apparatus than females were. In G. tytonis-G.p. paeba encounters a hierarchy emerged: female G.. tytonis were most aggressive, followed by female G.p. paeba, male G. tytonis, and finally male G.p. paeba. In areas of syntopy, G. tytonis displace G.p. paeba through aggressive interactions. A reduction in the level of aggression was exihibited in G.p. paeba-G. setzeri and G. tytonis-G. interactions. This result may reflect the phylogenetic divergence and selection of a different habitat by G. setzeri. G. vallinus dominated G.p. paeba, a result which may have been influenced by past experience and body size, since these two species are syntopic and G. vallinus is larger than G.p. paeba. Cluster analysis of behaviour profiles of different species and sexes revealed two groups, which agree partially with the karyology of the genus. G.p. paeba and G. tytonis formed one cluster, while G. setzeri and female G.p. exilis formed a second group. Male G.p. exilis and G. vallinus were less closely related to both groups. It is suggested that several stages in the process of speciation are represented in species of this genus . A range of social types is exhibited from solitary (G.p. paeba and G. tytonis) through semi-tolerant (G. setzeri and G. tytonis) through semi-tolerant (G. setzeri and female G.p. exilis) to tolerant (male G.p. exilis and G. vallinus). Habitat has a strong influence on social type.