Transmission of Food Preference Between Unfamiliar House Mice (Mus musculus domesticus) Is Dependent on Social Context

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Abstract

Rodents obtain information about a new food source through olfactory cues of conspecifics and consequently develop an attraction for this diet. Generally, physical contact between an observer and a demonstrator that has recently consumed a novel food item is required to allow the social transmission of food preference (STFP). However, in natural populations of house mice, social encounters between unfamiliar individuals usually turn into a fight. Thus, social intolerance between the individuals involved could prevent STFP. It has been shown that the feces of rodents can act as a social stimulus and promote STFP in mice, which could reduce the social constraints associated with an encounter. Here, we examined the acquisition of the STFP in female house mice of wild origin (Mus musculus domesticus) after a direct encounter with a familiar and unfamiliar female, and after the presentation of olfactory marks of an unfamiliar female. Unlike in encounters between familiar females, our results did not provide significant support for the existence of STFP after encounters between two unfamiliar females, independently of the occurrence or absence of offensive agonistic behavior. However, STFP through olfactory marks of an unfamiliar female was effective. We suggest that the social context might strongly impair direct STFP, not necessarily via the unfamiliarity of the information provider but rather via its physical presence.

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