Individual odour similarities across species parallel phylogenetic relationships in the S. ehrenbergi superspecies of mole-rats

Giora Heth, Josephine Todrank

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Research using habituation techniques has shown that rodents from the same kin group, population, or species share similarities in their individual odours that covary with shared genetic similarities between them, that is, the closer their genetic relatedness, the more similar their odours. We assessed similarities in individual odours across four sibling species of subterranean mole-rats from the Spalax ehrenbergi superspecies in Israel. Mole-rats were habituated to the urine odour of a same-sex individual from one species then tested with urine odours of individuals from two different species of the superspecies. Subjects treated urine odours of individuals from more closely genetically related species as similar compared with the odours of individuals from a less closely related species, showing that the covariance between odours and genes extends across species. These similarities in odour also paralleled genetic similarities determined by molecular analysis: odours of descendent species were perceived as similar to those of their closest ancestral species, suggesting that some qualities of the odour of the ancestral species persist in the descendent species. It is generally assumed that during speciation incipient species develop species-specific markers, including, for example, odour markers, to facilitate discrimination of conspecifics from close ancestral heterospecifics. Our findings indicate that similarities in odours across species are more salient than species-specific odour markers. Such findings may also have important implications for mechanisms of species recognition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)789-795
Number of pages7
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2000

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank M. Block and Z. Tang-Martinez for helpful discussions and H. Burda, A. Beiles and E. Nevo for comments on the manuscript. Financial support was provided by the Research Authority of the University of Haifa.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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