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Evaluation of the ‘maximum price paid’ as an index of motivational strength for farmed silver foxes (Vulpes vulpes).

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Title: Evaluation of the ‘maximum price paid’ as an index of motivational strength for farmed silver foxes (Vulpes vulpes).
Author: Mason, G.J.; Hovland, A.L.; Bøe, K.E.; Steinham, G.; Bakken, M.
Abstract: To measure farmed foxes’ motivations for full, naturalistic social contact, we constructed an apparatus where they could perform an operant to access stimuli, but then leave freely and thence determine their own bout lengths. Motivational measures based on demand curves can be invalid in such set-ups, and we therefore sought to validate the measure ‘maximum price paid’. This was achieved by measuring six silver fox males’ maximum operant responding for access or proximity to three resources differing in biological significance: food, vixens in oestrus and males. We predicted that if valid, maximum price paid would be highest for food and vixens. Maximum price were 970 ± 399 (S.E.) for food, 677 ± 173 (S.E.) for vixens and 389 ± 101 (S.E.) for other males (P < 0.05). In contrast, our complementary measures of motivation – price elasticity, expenditure and consumer surplus – did not differentiate between the resources, and ranked them in different orders (albeit not significantly). This was because the foxes rescheduled their behaviour with increasing costs, decreasing bout number while increasing bout length, to different extents with the three resources. Additional findings showed that all subjects ‘overpaid’, performing the operant response more than was required. This increased as the costs increased, perhaps due to increasing ‘time outs’ on the time-restricted schedule (DRH) as the task got harder. However, the overpayment was also highest when males were the resource, suggesting that operant responding was slowest and least efficient when working for less-valued resources. The resources present also affected how the foxes used the rest of the apparatus and influenced their behaviour; subjects staying more in the operant compartment when the resource was social (especially a female), but retreating to a distant compartment when it was food. While proximity to oestrous vixens elicited higher levels of tail wagging and only low levels of pacing, indicating a positive motivation, proximity to males elicited relatively high levels of pacing plus agonistic gaping, suggesting that the motives for seeking contact with males related to aggression. Thus, although our operant set-up reveals a drive to approach other males, the possible aggressive motives suggest that this sort of social contact would not necessarily improve their welfare in a traditional housing system. Overall, these results help improve the design and interpretation of preference tests, and confirm maximum price paid as a useful motivational measure for farmed foxes. # 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Date: 2006

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