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Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution


Here we employed the partner preference test (PPT) to examine how naked mole-rat non-breeding individuals of different behavioral phenotypes make social decisions. Naked mole-rats from six colonies were classified into three behavioral phenotypes (soldiers, dispersers, and workers) using a battery of behavioral tests. They then participated in a 3 h long PPT, where they could freely interact with a tethered familiar or tethered unfamiliar conspecific. By comparing the three behavioral phenotypes, we tested the hypothesis that the PPT can be used to interrogate social decision-making in this species, revealing individual differences in behavior that are consistent with discrete social phenotypes. We also tested whether a shorter, 10 min version of the paradigm is sufficient to capture group differences in behavior. Overall, soldiers had higher aggression scores toward unfamiliar conspecifics than both workers and dispersers at the 10 min and 3 h comparison times. At the 10 min comparison time, workers showed a stronger preference for the familiar animal’s chamber, as well as for investigating the familiar conspecific, compared to both dispersers and soldiers. At the 3 h time point, no phenotype differences were seen with chamber or investigation preference scores. Overall, all phenotypes spent more time in chambers with another animal vs. being alone. Use of the PPT in a comparative context has demonstrated that the test identifies species and group differences in affiliative and aggressive behavior toward familiar and unfamiliar animals, revealing individual differences in social decision-making and, importantly, capturing aspects of species-specific social organization seen in nature.


affiliation, aggression, behavioral phenotype, eusocial, naked mole-rat, partner preference






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