Immunocontraception decreases group fidelity in a feral horse population during the non-breeding season

Cassandra M.V. Nuñez, James S. Adelman, Carolyn Mason, Daniel Ian Rubenstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


The behavioral effects of the immunocontraceptive agent porcine zona pellucida (PZP) have not been adequately studied. Important managerial decisions for several species, including the wild horse (Equus caballus), have been based on this limited research. We studied 30 horses on Shackleford Banks, North Carolina, USA to determine the effects of PZP contraception on female fidelity to the harem male. We examined two classes of females: contracepts, recipients of the PZP vaccine (n = 22); and controls, females that have never received PZP (n = 8). We conducted the study during the non-breeding season from December 2005 to February 2006, totaling 102.2 h of observation. Contracepted mares changed groups more often than control mares (P = 0.04). Contracepts also visited more harem groups than did control mares (P = 0.02) and exhibited more reproductive interest (P = 0.05). For both contracepted and control females, the number of group changes (P = 0.01) and number of groups visited (P = 0.003) decreased with the proportion of years mares were pregnant. Our study shows that the application of PZP has significant consequences for the social behavior of Shackleford Banks horses. In gregarious species such as the horse, PZP application may disrupt social ties among individuals and inhibit normal social functioning at the population level.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)74-83
Number of pages10
JournalApplied Animal Behaviour Science
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Feb 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Food Animals
  • Animal Science and Zoology


  • Behavior
  • Equus caballus
  • Harem
  • Horse
  • Immunocontraception
  • Porcine zona pellucidae (PZP)
  • Stability


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