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17 June 2022 Latrine ecology of nilgai antelope
Lisa D. Zoromski, Randy W. DeYoung, John A. Goolsby, Aaron M. Foley, J. Alfonso Ortega-S., David G. Hewitt, Tyler A. Campbell
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The use of scent for communication is widespread in mammals, yet the role of scent-marking in the social system of many species is poorly understood. Nilgai antelope (Boselaphus tragocamelus) are native to India, Nepal, and Pakistan. They were introduced to Texas rangelands in the United States during the 1920s to 1940s, and have since expanded into much of coastal South Texas and northern Mexico. The nilgai social system includes the use of latrines or repeated defecation at a localized site. We quantified and described physical and behavioral characteristics of nilgai latrine ecology to investigate drivers of latrine use at three sites in South Texas, during April 2018 to March 2019. Latrines were abundant (2.6–8.7 latrines/ha on unpaved roads, 0.4–0.9 latrines/ha off-roads), with no evidence for selection as to vegetation communities; latrines were dynamic in persistence and visitation rates. We found higher densities of latrines in Spring surveys, just after the peak of nilgai breeding activity, compared to Autumn surveys. Density of nilgai latrines was 3–10 times greater than estimated population densities, indicating individual nilgai must use multiple latrines. Camera traps and fecal DNA analysis revealed latrines were mainly (70%) visited by bulls and defecated on by bulls (92% in photos, 89% for DNA samples). The greatest frequency of visits occurred during the peak in the nilgai breeding season, from December–February; latrines were visited every 2–3 days on average. Body characteristics of photographed individuals and genetic analysis of feces indicated repeated visits from the same individuals. Nilgai cows occasionally used latrines; their use was sometimes followed by bulls showing flehmen responses after a female defecated or urinated on the latrine. We propose that dominant bulls use latrines for territory demarcation to display social dominance to both cows in estrus and subordinate bulls. Cows likely use latrines to communicate reproductive status. This study is the first intensive assessment focused on latrine ecology in nilgai. Our results directly contradict anecdotal descriptions of latrine use and behavior in nilgai but are consistent with predictions of antelope social systems based on body size, feeding type, and group dynamics.

Lisa D. Zoromski, Randy W. DeYoung, John A. Goolsby, Aaron M. Foley, J. Alfonso Ortega-S., David G. Hewitt, and Tyler A. Campbell "Latrine ecology of nilgai antelope," Journal of Mammalogy 103(5), 1194-1207, (17 June 2022).
Received: 19 January 2021; Accepted: 11 May 2022; Published: 17 June 2022
Boselaphus tragocamelus
dung piles
Indian antelope
nilgai antelope
olfactory communication
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