A biological control strategy relying on a self-disseminating agent may provide the only affordable long-term technique for reducing brushtail possum (T. vulpecula) numbers throughout New Zealand. The objective of this study was to determine the frequency and patterns of social interactions in single and mixed-sex groups of possums, in order to identify interactions that may assist in the dissemination of biocontrol agents. 32 sexually mature wild-caught possums (16 female, 16 male) were housed in captive groups (of four) in enclosures during the breeding and non-breeding seasons. Groups consisted of either all females, females and males or all males. Four types of social interactions were defined: threats, fights, affiliative and sexual interactions. Interactions only occurred between two animals at one time and were most frequent in the non-breeding season. Within all female groups, possums readily engaged in interactions that had either an agonistic or affiliative nature. Mixed-sex groups interacted less frequently than females, but also engaged in both agonistic and affiliative interactions. In contrast, possums in all male groups rarely interacted, with only a few fights and no affiliative interactions observed. Some mixed-sex dyads appeared to 'associate' during the breeding period. Young possums were produced by three females that regularly associate with a male and one female that showed little associative behaviour. Given the different interaction patterns observed in each group type, biological control agents that rely on specific interaction patterns for dissemination, are likely to spread at different rates among different possum groups and in different seasons.
|Publication Title||Applied Animal Behaviour Science|
|Author Address||Animal Behaviour and Welfare Research Centre, AgResearch Ruakura, Private Bag 3123, Hamilton, New Zealand.|
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