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The combination of social and personal contexts affects dominance hierarchy development in shore crabs, Carcinus maenas
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Many animals that live in groups maintain competitive relationships, yet avoid continual fighting, by forming dominance hierarchies. We compare predictions of stochastic, individual-based models with empirical experimental evidence using shore crabs to test competing hypotheses regarding hierarchy development. The models test (1) what information individuals use when deciding to fight or retreat, (2) how past experience affects current resource-holding potential, and (3) how individuals deal with changes to the social environment. First, we conclude that crabs assess only their own state and not their opponent's when deciding to fight or retreat. Second, willingness to enter, and performance in, aggressive contests are influenced by previous contest outcomes. Winning increases the likelihood of both fighting and winning future interactions, while losing has the opposite effect. Third, when groups with established dominance hierarchies dissolve and new groups form, individuals reassess their ranks, showing no memory of previous rank or group affiliation. With every change in group composition, individuals fight for their new ranks. This iterative process carries over as groups dissolve and form, which has important implications for the relationship between ability and hierarchy rank. We conclude that dominance hierarchies emerge through an interaction of individual and social factors, and discuss these findings in terms of an underlying mechanism. Overall, our results are consistent with crabs using a cumulative assessment strategy iterated across changes in group composition, in which aggression is constrained by an absolute threshold in energy spent and damage received while fighting.
assessment strategy, Carcinus maenas, dominance hierarchy, fighting ability, group composition, individual-based simulation, resource-holding potential, shore crab
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