Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Shy wild boars are sometimes better mothers

June 3, 2016

It has been known for years that personality traits of animals, such as aggressiveness, risk-taking, curiosity or sociality, may have far-reaching consequences for reproduction and survival. However, separating the effect of personality from other factors, such as environmental conditions, is not easy. If the natural environment of the animals is subjected to strong fluctuations, the different personalities may have different consequences depending on the prevailing situation.

For the first time, an extensive study by Sebastian Vetter and his colleagues at the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology at Vetmeduni Vienna looked at the effect that personality of wild boar mothers has on the number of offspring raised. Wild boars are among the most reproductive of the large wild animals in Central Europe. Even very young females less than one year old can become pregnant if they achieve a certain body weight in the autumn. Their favourite food are acorns and beech nuts. These are not always available in the same quantity, however. In some years, so-called mast years, the trees produce many, in others only few fruits. The natural fluctuations were simulated in a trial with a wild board population kept in a breeding enclosure at semi-natural conditions with variable feeding regimes.

Football for wild boars
To determine the personality of the wild boars, a number of objects that were previously unknown to the animals were placed in the enclosure: a football, a basket or a plastic animal, for example. The research team then analysed videotaped recordings to study the reactions of the individual animals to the nine objects. The behaviour of the females to each other was also determined. These observations were used to calculate a personality index for each animal that was later compared with the number of young raised by that female.

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