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High-ranking mares of captive plains zebra Equus burchelli have greater reproductive success than low-ranking mares

By J. Pluhacek, L. Bartos, L. Culik

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Plains zebra live in harems that include one to six adult mares. Between these mares is a strong order of social hierarchy. The social rank of an equid mare is typically correlated with her age. Further, high-ranking captive plains zebra mares produce more surviving offspring than low-ranking mares. The objectives of this study were to, first, examined the factors that influence social rank of captive plains zebra mares, and second, test if high-ranking mares conceive earlier and if they have shorter inter-birth intervals than low-ranking ones. We observed three herds of captive plains zebra (a total of 18 mares) at the Dvur Kralove Zoo, Czech Republic. During the 831 h of observation, we recorded 1713 aggressive interactions (biting and offensive kicking) between the mares. These data were used to determine, for each mare, the total number of mares that dominated her in each period of social stability. The GLMM model revealed that older mares were dominated by a lower number of mares than the younger mares. We also found that the probability that a mare would conceive declined with the increasing number of dominant mares. Further, we tested the relationship between the number of dominant mares and the inter-birth interval using 29 intervals for 15 mares. These inter-birth intervals were divided into two groups. When a stallion was continuously present in the herd, the intervals lasted from one birth to the next birth (natural intervals). When a herd was without a stallion, the intervals lasted from the release of the stallion into the herd to the birth of foal (stallion-influenced intervals). The analysis revealed that the inter-birth intervals decreased with an increasing number of dominant mares and the natural intervals decreased with an increasing number of offspring successfully reared by a mare. This finding is the first one in equids and contributes to the previous findings that suggest that social status influences reproductive success.

Date 2006
Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 99
Issue 3/4
Pages 315-329
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
Language English
Author Address Ethology Group, Research Institute of Animal Production, Pratelstvi 815, 104 01 Praha, Uhrineves, Czech Republic.
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Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Aggression
  2. Animal behavior
  3. Animal reproduction
  4. Concepts
  5. Mammals
  6. peer-reviewed
  7. Reproduction
  8. Social behavior
  9. social order
  10. social status
  11. social structure
  12. Zebras
  13. Zoo and captive wild animals
  1. peer-reviewed