The reproductive ecology of the house mouse

Q Rev Biol. 1979 Sep;54(3):265-99. doi: 10.1086/411295.


This paper attempts to integrate the physiological and ecological perspectives of the reproductive biology of the house mouse (Mus musculus). The endeavor is made within a larger context to provide a prototype for mammalian reproductive ecology in general. Specifically, the environmental regulation of the reproduction of Mus musculus is examined in relation to its ecological opportunism and, in particular, in relation to its history of global colonization. House mice can live as commensals of man or under totally feral conditions. Stable, high density, commensal populations are characterized by an insular division of the living space into demeterritories, each dominated by a single male. Feral populations typically are characterized by temporal, spatial, and social instability. Territoriality is improbable under such conditions, particularly given the necessity for large home ranges in most feral habitats. In both feral and commensal populations, however, male aggressiveness promotes the large-scale dispersal of young, all of which are potential colonizers. Of the ten or so environmental factors known to influence reproduction in house mice, seven probably are of routine importance in natural populations: diurnal modulation by daily light:dark cycles; caloric intake; nutrition; extreme temperature; agaonistic stimuli; socio-tactile cues; and priming pheronomes. The last two factors named operate directly on the secretion of luteinizing hormone or prolactin; the others act at many points in the reproductive system. Reproduction in the house mouse seems divorced from photoperiodically induced seasonality; indeed, this species breeds well even in constant darkness. Seasonal breeding may or may not then occur, depending upon dietary considerations, with or without a secondary interaction with variation in ambient temperature. There is no evidence for a dependence upon secondary plant compounds. Some of the effects of priming pheromones that have been observed previously in laboratory mice probably play no meaningful role in wild populations. The remaining pheromonal phenomena can be conceptualized as a single cueing system that has three components: (a) urinary cues of socially dominant males can accelerate ovulation in females, adult or prepubertal; (b) female urinary cues may elevate pheromonal potency in adult males, thereby forming a feedback loop by which the females elicit their own ovulation; and (c) the male's action on prepubertal females can be blocked by urinary cues emanating from other females. When all of the above is viewed in toto, the reproductive biology of the house mouse seems uniquely suited to support ecological opportunism. The relatively few environmental inhibitors of reproduction in this species should enhance the ability of dispersing young to colonize an exceptionally wide variety of habitats and climates...

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Wild / physiology
  • Ecology
  • Energy Intake
  • Mice / physiology*
  • Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Periodicity
  • Pheromones
  • Reproduction*
  • Social Behavior
  • Temperature


  • Pheromones