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Enemies make great neighbors: relocated kangaroo rats thrive when rivals move too.

Even solitary beasts benefit when a new place has the same old jerks next door.

Endangered Stephens' kangaroo rats live by themselves most of the time in plots of California grassland that they defend from nearby members of their species. When conservationists moved animals to safer homes away from development, familiar rivals relocated together fared better than rats grouped with strangers, says conservation biologist Debra Shier of the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.

This boost may come from what's been called a "dear enemy effect," Shier and institute colleague Ronald Swaisgood write online October 6 in Conservation Biology. Animals tend not to scrap as aggressively with familiar holders of neighboring territories as with complete strangers. The researchers noted that rats relocated along with their dear enemies spent less time fighting and more time foraging than others surrounded by unfamiliar neighbors.

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"While the last 30 years have seen some spectacular species returns, there are many, often undocumented, failures," says Mark Stanley Price, chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Task Force on Moving Plants and Animals for Conservation Purposes. The new work "should prove to be an exemplary milestone in translocation biology."

Shier and Swaisgood took animals from three failing habitats, moving

99 of them to new, protected ground in 2008 and 2009. About half the relocated rats had their old neighbors nearby.

Survival was higher in the group moved with familiar foes. This group also had 24 times as many pups, in part because only three out of 20 females in the stranger group survived six months.
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Author:Milius, Susan
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 19, 2011
Words:263
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