Ecophysiological constraints associated with aggression, and evolution toward pacifism in Spalax ehrenbergi

Guila Ganem, Eviatar Nevo

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Evolution from a solitary way of life to sociality involves changes in the modalities of within-population aggression. This paper is concerned with environmental causes of variation in aggression within the complex of mole-rat species Spalax ehrenbergi. We focus on physiological constraints associated with aggressive behaviour, i.e. those resulting from emotional arousal and thus stress. Aggression, social stress sensitivity and urine osmolarity were studied in males of two chromosomal species of Spalax ehrenbergi, 2n - 52 (occurring in cool humid areas) and In = 60 (occurring in warm arid zones). Males with 2n = 52 reached a higher level of within-population aggression during a 3-round tournament (an average, 488 ± 140 acts) than males with 2n = 60 (163 ± 54 acts). The species with In - 52 displayed a higher corticosterone response after a social encounter (in average, 5.15 ± 0.54 μg/100ml) than that with In = 60 (3.0 ± 0.3 μg/100 ml) whereas resting levels of this hormone were low and not different between the two species. Urine osmolarity was significantly higher in males with 2n = 60 (331.9 ± 18.6 mmol/kg) than males with 2n = 52 (267.3 ± 10.9 mmol/kg). Considering the over-all general trend urine osmolarity tended to be negatively related to the level of aggression, while corticosterone levels tended to vary positively with aggressiveness (Fig. 3). Our results allow further discussion of the hypothesis that high levels of aggression could be selected against in arid habitats due to their physiological correlates (decrease in water economy, increased corticosterone leading to potential energy mobilisation and loss). We propose that behavioural ecophysiology could have contributed to the radiation of the S. ehrenbergi superspecies into increasingly arid environments, and may favour evolution toward social tolerance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)245-252
Number of pages8
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1996


  • Aggression
  • Mole-rat
  • Plasma corticosterone
  • Social stress
  • Urine osmolarity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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