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© 2016 Buesching et al. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. European badgers (Meles meles) use shared defecation sites, termed latrines, to demarcate group ranges. While some latrines are small, comprising few pits with few fresh scats spread over a small area, others are large, comprising many pits with many fresh droppings and extending over a large area. Although many studies have investigated badger latrine usage patterns, and speculated on latrine function, this variation in relative latrine size remains unexplained. Using nearest neighbor analyses, we analyzed the latrine positioning, use, and inter-latrine distances from four study areas with different population densities. We found that latrines were spaced regularly throughout the range, and border marking was prioritized, increasing the chances of traversing badgers intercepting a latrine. While the numbers of latrines increased with group range size, the number of fresh feces per latrine decreased, suggesting that fresh feces may be a limiting resource in the maintenance of latrines, and that maintaining latrine spacing pattern is more important than the actual number of fresh feces in each latrine. We thus posited that, where territories are small and groups large, the capacity to produce feces exceeds the minimum need for perimeter marking, resulting in fecal redundancy and large latrines. In contrast, in larger territories, especially when occupied by smaller groups, badgers may experience fecal constraint, thus maintaining smaller latrines. We concluded that latrine maintenance and fecal scent-marking activity in badgers involves a trade-off between group size and group range area, leading to different degrees of fecal constraint, while energetic costs of signaling are minimized. Copyright:

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