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Proc Biol Sci. 2001 May 7;268(1470):899-909.

Reproductive suppression in female Damaraland mole-rats Cryptomys damarensis: dominant control or self-restraint?

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Mammal Research Institute, Department of Zoology and Entomology, University of Pretoria, Republic of South Africa.


Colonies of Damaraland mole-rats Cryptomys damarensis exhibit a high reproductive skew. Typically one female breeds and the others are anovulatory. Two models, the dominant control model (DCM) and the self-restraint model (SRM), have been proposed to account for this reproductive suppression. The DCM proposes that suppression is under the control of the dominant breeder and is imposed by mechanisms such as aggression, pheromones and interference with copulation, whereas the SRM does not involve aggression directed towards non-breeders and may function in order to minimize inbreeding. We investigated potential proximate mechanisms involved in the suppression of females in a series of experiments. Socially induced stress through aggression did not appear to be responsible for anovulation. Nor did breeders actively interfere with subordinate copulation. Females were physiologically suppressed when housed in intact colonies. However, as predicted by the DCM, they did not become reproductively active when removed from the presence of breeders. We found no evidence that pheromonal cues block ovulation. We suggest that the SRM is the basic model found in the Damaraland mole-rat and that self-restraint functions in order to minimize inbreeding by restricting reproduction until an unrelated male is present. This would explain the rapid onset of reproductive activation in females when paired with an unrelated male, as demonstrated in this study.

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