Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Aggression in female European rabbits: the role of male odor and enclosure size
by Valuska, Anne Jessica, Ph.D., University of California, Davis, 2012, 59; 3540748
Abstract (Summary)

Social enrichment has become an increasingly popular strategy for improving the welfare of laboratory animals. Rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus ) are an ideal candidate for social housing, as they are gregarious in the wild and show a significant reduction in repetitive abnormal behaviors and an increase in species-typical behaviors when housed with conspecifics. However, few laboratories in the United States socially house their rabbits due to the high levels of severe injurious aggression that occur when unfamiliar adults are introduced to one another. My studies assessed factors contributing to aggression between pairs of unfamiliar adult female New Zealand White rabbits. In wild rabbits, allomarks, or scent marks applied to conspecifics, appear to play an important role in maintaining the social hierarchy and reducing aggression toward unfamiliar consepcifics. In Chapter 1, I assessed the effectiveness of allomarks, specifically buck urine, in reducing aggression and increasing affiliative behavior between pairs of unrelated unfamiliar does. As predicted, pairs marked with buck urine engaged in significantly less aggressive and more affiliative behavior than unmarked pairs. In Chapter 2, I explored the factors responsible for buck urine's effectiveness at reducing aggression. In the first study, the effects of male and female urine scent marks were compared in a repeated measures design. Aggression was significantly higher in the female urine treatment when does were unfamiliar to one another. In the second study, pairs were marked either with urine from two different bucks or urine from the same buck; no differences were observed between these treatments. Together, these results suggested that buck urine was effective at reducing aggression between unfamiliar does because it was a male odor, and not because it imbued rabbits with a common scent. In Chapter 3, I evaluated whether the size of the enclosure in which scent-marked rabbits are introduced could affect aggression. Rabbits are often introduced in an enclosure the size of a double-wide rabbit cage, and I tested them in such an enclosure as well as in a larger enclosure (the approximate size of "introduction pens" used by some laboratories) using a repeated measures design. When rabbits were unfamiliar to one another, I observed significantly more aggressive and less affiliative behavior in the small enclosure than the large enclosure. However, the rabbits' behavior during their second interaction was affected more by their behavior in the first trial than it was by treatment. Taken together the studies presented in this volume provide evidence that a combination of a large enclosure and application of buck scent marks can be used to successfully introduce rabbits, at least on a short term basis. These studies also provide insight in more general questions concerning the olfactory modulation of aggression and the role of allomarking in regulating social behavior.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Mench, Joy A.
Commitee: Hudson, Robyn E., Tucker, Cassandra B.
School: University of California, Davis
Department: Animal Behavior
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-B 74/02(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Zoology, Animal sciences, Behavioral Sciences
Keywords: Aggression, Allomarking, Laboratory animals, Olfaction, Rabbits, Shared spaces
Publication Number: 3540748
ISBN: 978-1-267-66323-8
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