animal behaviour challenges - exploratory behaviour in mice

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Animal Behaviour Challenges:

Animal Behaviour Challenges Exploratory behaviour in the Yellow-necked Mouse, Apodemus flavicollis By Louise Lund Christensen

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The Yellow-necked Mouse measures up to 26cm from tail to snout weighing as much as 45g. These mice are able to climb trees, but are most commonly seen on the ground, often living close to/ or around people.

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A Yellow-necked Mouse was observed on subsequent occasions throughout February and March (2011) to assess the patterns of exploratory behaviour in relation to Tinbergens four questions: Function Causation Development Evolution


Function The function of exploratory behaviour in the case of the Yellow-necked Mouse observed, is to gain food. The mouse needs to find food in order to survive and increase its fitness, thereby increasing its chances of finding a mate, reproducing and passing on its genes to the next generation. In this case, as in many, function has both costs and benefits. By exhibiting exploratory behaviour the mouse may gain access to food but it also risks predation.


Causation Causation relates to ’how’ the mouse displays exploratory behaviour, or as the name implies, the underlying causes of this behaviour. When a mouse engages in exploratory behaviour, which in this case relates to hunger, it will alternate between ’progressing’ and ’stopping’. When the animal stops, it performs scanning movements – sniffing or looking around. The alteration between progressing and stopping is controlled by the brain (the hypothalamus) in response to physiological cues, such as hunger.


Development Mice are born blind and naked and they are reared by their mother for the first 2-3 weeks of their life. At this time, the sensory-systems of the mice is fully developed, and innate behaviour such as exploration starts to kick in. This leads mice to leave their mother and siblings, and to go off and find a territory of their own.


Evolution An evolutionary history of stabilizing selection for exploratory behaviour in mice seems most likely. For mice, it is important to collect as much information about the environment in the shortest possible time. However, very high levels of exploration will leave the mouse exposed to predation for longer. The most advantageous situation for mice would be intermediate levels of exploration, as this would allow mice to gain information from their environment (find food) but also to a reasonable extent it would protect them from predators.


Summary Exploratory behaviour plays an important part in the survival and reproductive succes of mice, as described here using the Yellow-necked Mouse as an example. Exploration allows mice to gather information about their environment, enabling them to find food, mates and to establish territories.


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