While staying with family and friends can be a rewarding experience for some voles, social interaction is simply tolerable for others. New research published in the journal eLife explored how differences in individual, sex and species among voles influence their social life.
Since hormones and similar brain structures are involved in social interactions in many species, including humans, this study may shed light on some of the foundations for social differences.
According to scientists, some species of voles, such as prairie voles, form lasting social bonds with their companions, as well as with their same-sex peers. Meadow voles, on the other hand, form social relationships only to help them survive the winter and separate in the warmer months.
“We wanted to determine why voles of these two species spend time in social contact,” said study first author Annaliese Beery, a biologist at the University of California at Berkeley. âSpecifically, we wanted to know what role social motivation plays in their behavior, or to what extent social selectivity is more about avoiding strangers. “
In order to answer these questions, Beery and his team trained prairie and prairie voles to push a bar to receive food rewards. Subsequently, they replaced the food with brief access to familiar voles or strangers to see how often they were pushing the bar to access the other animal.
Researchers have found striking differences between species and sexes that structure the behavior of voles. While female prairie voles worked harder to see familiar voles rather than strangers, male prairie voles did not show a preference for close acquaintances. Instead, they worked harder to approach women rather than men. Meadow voles, who were only females, didn’t seem very interested in any kind of social interaction.
The results indicate that prairie voles found social interactions with pets more rewarding, while prairie voles, while likely to tolerate family or friends, did not seem to find much satisfaction in social interactions while general.
By analyzing the brain chemistry of these animals, scientists found that changes in behavior were associated with levels of oxytocin, a hormone linked to sociability. While animals with more oxytocin receptors in a part of the brain called the ambient nucleus were more social, those with more receptors in the nucleus of the terminal streak bed were more aggressive.
“Knowing more about how the mechanisms supporting social relationships are similar and different across species and sexes will help us understand which mechanisms are universal and which are species specific,” Beery concluded.
Through Andrei Ionescu, Terre.com Editor-in-chief