The National Science Foundation (NSF) is giving an assistant professor nearly $20,000 to write a dissertation on the mating habits of Syrian hamsters.
"What factors drive a female to choose a particular mate?" the grant for the project begins. "This is an important question to scientists interested in animal behavior, sexual selection, and life history theory. Individual variation in female mate preferences and choice is common. However, our understanding of the mechanisms behind this phenomenon is still quite limited."
Thus, the NSF-funded dissertation seeks to understand how female Syrian hamsters’ reproductive age affects their "mate preference and choosiness" for male Syrian hamsters.
"The research team will experimentally accelerate reproductive aging in young female hamsters to determine if reproductive age modulates mate choice behavior," the grant explained. "This will be the first study to assess the effects of reproductive aging on behavior in mammals."
Young adult female Syrian hamsters will be injected with 4-vinylcyclohexene diepoxide (VCD), which makes their ovaries age faster, to see the drug’s effect on hamsters’ sexual preferences. Female hamsters usually prefer a "dominant" male, the grant said.
"VCD-treated females will be given an opportunity to choose between a dominant and subordinate male hamster, and their preferences will be compared to vehicle-injected females," the grant said. "Young females typically choose the dominant male in this situation. If the preference for dominant male hamsters by young VCD-treated females is reduced relative to controls, then this result will emphasize the importance of reproductive quality, independent of chronological age, in explaining the individual variation in female mate choice."
Videos of the hamsters mating will be publicly available "indefinitely" through Cornell University.
The two-year dissertation has cost taxpayers $18,952 so far, and was awarded to Ned J. Place, an associate professor in the Department of Population Medicine and Diagnostic Sciences at Cornell. The research began last June, and is slated to continue through 2016.
Place has also studied the "erect clitoris" of the female spotted hyena, which is the "most highly masculinized female mammal known."