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Sniffing out the perfect mate

4 August 2014

Do Eastern Barred Bandicoots actively choose their mates? If so, how do do they make that choice and what impact does it have?

These are questions that the team from Zoos Victoria are hoping to answer with a mate choice trial for Eastern Barred Bandicoots at Werribee Open Range Zoo. 

It’s an exciting new piece of research that will help Zoos Victoria understand the breeding behavior for the species and to ensure that we have the best program possible for species recovery.

In a number of native species, a female’s choice of mate can significantly affect reproductive success along with the survival and success of her young.

We are trying to determine whether female bandicoots show a preference for a particular mate when given a choice and if mate choice does occur, what impact it might have on reproductive success and the long-term health of the young.

As part of the trial at Werribee Open Range Zoo's breeding facilities, females were matched with two genetically viable males and given the opportunity to ‘choose’ their preferred mate via scent and then interactions with the males.

Researchers then had to look through hours of video footage to determine which male had been selected before the pairing.

So far, we have discovered that female Eastern Barred Bandicoots show interest in both male scents and direct interactions with males.

This is very promising, because we have found that scent-based mate choice in other native species can significantly increase the number of young produced and decrease the amount of time it takes for a female to become pregnant.

Five young were born during this first stage of the trial and we will now continue to follow these youngsters into adulthood, building up valuable data on their development and success when introduced to predator-proof release sites.

We are now looking at the next set of pairings for the trial, which will be conducted over winter. 

This research is part of a wider recovery program with our partners, Department of Environment and Primary Industries, Parks Victoria, Conservation Volunteers Australia, University of Melbourne, Mt Rothwell Conservation and Research Centre, and private landowners and stakeholders to fight the extinction of the Eastern Barred Bandicoot.