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Do prairie voles (Microtus ochrogaster) change their activity and space use in response to domestic cat (Felis catus) excreta?

Brian Keane EMAIL logo , Phillip J. Long , Yasmeen Fleifil and Nancy G. Solomon
From the journal Mammalia


Behavioral changes that reduce the risk of predation in response to predator-derived odor cues are widespread among mammalian taxa and have received a great deal of attention. Although voles of the genus Microtus are staples in the diet of many mammalian predators, including domestic cats (Felis catus), there are no previous studies on vole space utilization and activity levels in response to odor cues from domestic cats. Therefore, the objective of our study was to investigate responses of adult prairie voles (Microtus ochrogaster) living in semi-natural habitats to odor cues from domestic cat excreta. Contrary to expectations, neither adult males or females showed significant changes in space use or willingness to enter traps in response to cat odors. One hypothesis to explain our results are that prairie voles have not co-evolved with domestic cats long enough to respond to their odors. Other possible explanations include whether levels of odors in the environment were sufficient to trigger a response or that the perceived risk of predation from odor cues alone did not outweigh relative costs of changing space use and activity levels. Future studies should consider multiple factors when determining what cues are sufficient to elicit antipredatory behavior.

Corresponding author: Brian Keane, Department of Biological Sciences and Center for Animal Behavior, Miami University - Regionals, Hamilton, OH, 45011, USA,

Award Identifier / Grant number: IOB0614015

Funding source: National Science Foundation - Research Experience for Undergraduates

Award Identifier / Grant number: DBI-0353915


Thanks to Rodney Kolb and the staff at Miami University’s Ecology Research Center for all their help with the logistics of this project. We thank Adam Blundell, Jennifer Corman, Kristin Gunter, Hillary Hoffman Adam Litz, and Lindsey Williams for their help with field work during summer 2007. We also thank staff at the Animal Adoption Foundation, Hamilton, OH for providing the cat litter with cat excreta. We thank Hank Stevens for providing advice on data analysis and Jacob Schlichter for assistance with checking data.

  1. Author contribution: All the authors have accepted responsibility for the entire content of this submitted manuscript and approved submission.

  2. Research funding: This research was supported by a NSF-REU grant (DBI-0353915) to PJL and a NSF grant (IOB0614015) to BK and NGS.

  3. Conflict of interest statement: The authors declare no conflicts of interest regarding this article.


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Received: 2020-02-08
Accepted: 2020-06-02
Published Online: 2020-08-03
Published in Print: 2021-01-27

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