Intraspecific variation in social systems is widely recognized across many taxa, and specific models, including polygamy potential, resource defense, and resource dispersion, have been developed to explain the relationship between ecological variation and social organization. Although mammals from temperate North America and Eurasia have provided many insights into this relationship, rodents from the Neotropics and temperate South America have largely been ignored. In this review we focus on reports documenting intraspecific variation in spacing systems, group size, and mating systems of caviomorphs. This large group of New World hystricognath rodents occupies a diverse array of habitats; thus, members of the same species potentially exhibit different social systems in response to different ecological conditions. Spatial patterns vary in response to a diverse array of factors, including predation, food availability, population density, and soil characteristics. Changes in group size typically correlate with changes in resource availability, particularly food. Mating systems generally reflect the ability of males to control access to females, which may depend on population density or food distribution. In general, social organization in caviomorphs fits predictions of resource-based models; however, most studies have been purely observational, involving small numbers of animals over short time periods and reporting qualitative rather than quantitative levels of ecological correlates. In future studies the use of molecular techniques and controlled, experimental manipulations can increase our understanding of intraspecific variation in caviomorph social systems. This understudied group of rodents offers excellent opportunities to provide insights into the influence of ecological conditions on behavior such as social systems.
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Vol. 92 • No. 1