Boundary faeces and matched advertisement in the European badger (Meles meles): A potential role in range exclusion
Stewart PD., Macdonald DW., Newman C., Cheeseman CL.
In lowland England, badgers Meles meles form social groups of up to 30 individuals. They share a main den (sett) and a core feeding range, but largely forage alone. Faeces are deposited in discrete hinterland and border 'latrines'. Border latrines are shared with neighbouring groups. We demonstrate that there is a highly significant tendency for neighbouring groups to place a similar quantity of faeces at shared latrines. There are also significant tendencies to place more faeces in boundary latrines close to the sett, and for reduced separation of latrines close to the sett. We also demonstrate that badgers tend to defecate most frequently on the boundary closest to their current feeding site. These observations are consistent with the hypothesis that faeces at border latrines are used to promote range exclusion. We propose that faecal volume represents a reliable signal of the encounter likelihood and/or foraging pressure of badgers along a particular border. According to the 'active territorial defence' hypothesis, this indicates a stand-off position in terms of each group's resource holding potential by signalling encounter likelihood across the boundary. By the 'passive range exclusion' hypothesis, this border is an isopleth (equal contour) of resource depletion between groups, and crossing over such a contour deep into a neighbouring range reduces foraging efficiency. By either hypothesis, the matched faecal volume and sett proximity effects suggest a simple mechanism that is capable of allowing reliable information to be passed by individuals between adjacent sectors of neighbouring territories to deter intrusion. This is a 'bottom-up' process of inter-dependent, parallel, individual responses, which is capable of generating the emergent complexity of co-ordinated group ranges without central control.