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Title: The socio-ecological functions of fossoriality in a group-living carnivore, the European badger (meles meles)
Author: Noonan, Michael James
ISNI:       0000 0004 6346 7249
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2015
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This thesis examines the role played by den use in socio-ecology, especially in leveraging group formation (i.e., the Fossorial Benefits Hypothesis; FBH), using badgers as a model species. In particular, I benefit from recent technological developments, facilitating detailed measurements of activity, energetic expenditure, ranging behaviour, and underground localisation, enabling the examination of hitherto intractable facets of badger socio-ecology, allowing a comprehensive investigation. Group-living is theorised to evolve when the benefits of living with conspecifics outweigh the costs. While pack hunting, and allo-parenting play a specific role in fostering communal living, I demonstrate in Part I that continued cohabitation at natal dens can often acts as a precursive mechanism initiating cohabitation, that can persists into adulthood among small, omnivorous/insectivorous, den-using carnivores. In this context, I then consider the implications of delayed dispersal and reproductive suppression. This provides an evolutionary basis linking fossoriality and group-living in the Carnivora, where sociality is, in part, explained by burrow-dwelling. Part II establishes that the energetic benefits of using fossorial dens as refugia from adverse weather provide a functional basis for persistent co-occupation of a common den by conspecifics. Badgers use setts strategically, with reference to their body-condition and their imperative to forage, to reduce energy expenditure and optimise their capacity for achieving minimal food security. This section also considers how badgers may compensate for ongoing rapid climate change. Part III demonstrates that cohabitation at dens does not infer group collaboration or social structure; individuals may still act independently. Nevertheless, burrow use patterns were coordinated between badger group members, evidencing that dens act as social foci. Collectively these lines of evidence support the FBH as a playing a causal role promoting spatial group formation and a complementary role driving persistent benefits of group-living in suitable resource-scapes; resulting in 'spatial' though not necessarily 'social' -groups.
Supervisor: Macdonald, David ; Newman, Chris Sponsor: Rhodes Trust ; Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available