Influence of a natural stressor (predator odor) on locomotor activity in the meadow vole (Microtus pennsylvanicus): modulation by sex, reproductive condition and gonadal hormones

Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2000 Apr;25(3):259-76. doi: 10.1016/s0306-4530(99)00054-2.


Sex differences in a variety of non-reproductive behaviors have been indicated to occur in seasonally breeding polygynous promiscuous rodents such as the meadow vole, Microtus pennsylvanicus. The present study was designed to assess the effects of reproductive and hormonal status on the locomotor responses of meadow voles following brief exposure to the odors of a natural predator, the Red fox (Vulpes vulpes). Adult male and female meadow voles, which are seasonal photoperiodically-induced breeders, were housed in either mixed sex pairs under a long, reproductively stimulatory photoperiod (simulating breeding: long light cycle, paired: LLC + P) or in same-sex pairs under a short, reproductively inhibitory photoperiod (simulated non-breeding: short light cycle, non-paired: SLC-NP). On 2 consecutive days following 1 day of baseline activity monitoring, voles were exposed individually for 3 min to fox odor and a novel pungent control odor (extract of almond). The levels of various measures of activity that were displayed by the voles were assessed by an automated Digiscan activity monitoring system. LLC + P (simulated breeding) voles displayed higher basal levels of activity relative to SLC + NP (simulated non-breeding) voles, with males displaying greater activity than females. LLC + P (simulated breeding) males displayed a significant reduction in activity levels following exposure to fox odor relative to control odor. The reductions in activity following fox odor exposure were related to plasma testosterone levels such that a larger behavioral response (i.e. greater reduction) was associated with higher levels of testosterone. Furthermore, dividing males into high and low testosterone groups based on the median levels of testosterone revealed that high but not low testosterone males displayed reductions in activity following exposure to fox odor relative to control odor. No changes in activity levels following exposure to fox odor were noted in SLC-NP males, and either SLC-NP or LLC + P females. These results show that this sexually dimorphic non-reproductive behavior is significantly influenced by reproductive condition and gonadal hormone levels.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arvicolinae / blood
  • Arvicolinae / physiology*
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Body Weight / physiology
  • Estradiol / blood
  • Female
  • Male
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Odorants
  • Organ Size / physiology
  • Ovary / anatomy & histology
  • Photoperiod
  • Sex Factors
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Smell / physiology
  • Stress, Physiological / physiopathology*
  • Testis / anatomy & histology
  • Testosterone / blood


  • Testosterone
  • Estradiol