PerspectiveEvolution

Dissecting diversity in the social brain

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Science  11 Dec 2015:
Vol. 350, Issue 6266, pp. 1310-1312
DOI: 10.1126/science.aad8071

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Summary

Soon after launching an ambitious 25-year study of the population cycles of rodents in the fields and prairies near the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign in 1971, Lowell Getz saw something strange. Adult male and female prairie voles (Microtus ochrogaster) often appeared in the same live trap, unlike the meadow vole, whose sexes were more segregated. Moreover, the same pairs were often retrapped months later. Using radio tracking, Getz and his co-workers found that most trapped pairs were long-term partners living together in underground nests and sharing common home ranges (1). So began almost 50 years of pathbreaking research into the biology of prairie vole monogamy, in one of fewer than 5% of mammalian species with a monogamous lifestyle (2, 3). On page 1371 of this issue, Okhovat et al. (4) use the prairie vole model system to investigate individual differences in this social behavior. Differences in social behavior are widely observed but poorly understood in most species.