HomeOther ScienceWildlife study: Cheetah marking trees are hotspots for communication among other species...

Wildlife study: Cheetah marking trees are hotspots for communication among other species as well

Many mammals communicate with one another by leaving scent marks, urine, or scats. They leave, receive, or exchange information about territory ownership, reproductive receptivity, health status, or diet using this method. However, whether and how this type of olfactory communication is used by species other than the one that placed the mark is still unknown.

Using wildlife camera traps, researchers from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) observed nine cheetah-marking trees. They also found nine similarly looking control trees on farmland in Namibia. They discovered that several other species visited and sniffed cheetah-marking trees more frequently than control trees. It implied that cheetah markings provide important information to them. Furthermore, different species exchanged information at the same frequency at both cheetah-marking trees and control trees. It indicated that they communicate using prominent trees.

During the 65-day survey period, 29 different mammal species visited the cheetah marking and control trees. While the cheetah trees had a greater diversity of species, most species only visited the trees a few times. The researchers limited their study to species that visited, sniffed, or marked the trees at least 20 times. 13 species were visited, nine species were sniffed, and one species left information on the trees in this subset.

African wild cats (Felis lybica lybica), black-backed jackals (Lupulella mesomelas), and warthogs (Phacochoerus Africanus), two small carnivore species and one omnivore species rarely preyed on by cheetahs. According to the scientist, they visited and sniffed the cheetah-marking trees more frequently than the control trees.

“Small carnivore species may visit cheetah marking trees to determine when cheetahs last visited the area and to feed on undigested prey remains in cheetah scats,” said Sarah Edwards, a postdoctoral researcher in Wildlife Management at IZW. “Because warthogs are omnivores and opportunistic scavengers. They may feed on undigested prey remains in cheetah scats.” Furthermore, warthogs are the only species that left olfactory information at the same frequency as cheetah marking and control trees. This suggests that warthogs use large trees as communication sites.”

Interspecific communication has previously been described primarily between predators and prey or between carnivorous species. It has frequently involved prey animals sniffing at predator markings. This study suggests that scent markings can serve a broader range of functions and that different mammalian species can use them to learn important information from other species.

The findings have been published in the journal Mammalian Biology.


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