Naturalistic Observation of Female Aggression in Long-Evans Rats in a Semi-Natural Visible Burrow System

Han, Christy
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University of Hawaii at Manoa
Both male and female aggression must be studied in order to understand the different causes and mechanisms of aggression between the sexes. Many studies on female aggression, in model organisms such as mice and rats, have been reported. However, these represent a small percentage of all the studies done on aggression and involved mostly maternal aggression (pup defense) that included little or no data on offensive aggression. Because different types of aggression may reflect the action of specific neurochemical systems, a better understanding of the range and functions of female aggression is important. Mixed-sex rat colonies were placed in a semi-natural visible burrow system (VBS) with simulated day/night cycle applying 12h/12h light and darkness. Food and water were available in each chamber and surface area to negate the necessity for animals to leave the burrows to eat or drink on the surface. This allowed observation of new agonistic behaviors not influenced by competitive aggression for food and water resources. Aggression between females and dominant males increased throughout the VBS grouping period while subordinate-dominant male aggression decreased and stabilized. Females did exhibit aggression in the absence of pups. They tended to be aggressive towards the dominant male while hardly fighting with the subordinate males or each other. The context and behaviors associated with female aggression to dominant males strongly suggested that this functions to protect nonestrus females against male sexual advances.
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