, Volume 34, Issue 6, pp 427-434

Resource-holding power asymmetries, the prior residence effect, and reproductive payoffs in male northern elephant seal fights

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The effect of resource-holding power (RHP) and prior residency asymmetries on fight outcome and subsequent seasonal copulatory success was analyzed for fights between marked male northern elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris). RHP asymmetries were measured as differences in estimated mass and prior residency asymmetries were measured as differences in beach tenure prior to the fight. The principal results were: (a) Neither differences in mass nor differences in beach tenure had any effect on fight outcome as separate factors. (b) Mass and tenure differences had an interactive effect on fight outcome; fight winners were either heavier males present for shorter periods (intruders) or lighter males present for longer periods (prior residents). (c) Winners of fights copulated more often than losers after a fight throughout the breeding season; this difference was smallest for low-ranking males, larger for high-ranking males in short fights, and greatest for high-ranking males in long fights. (d) Prior resident males who won long fights obtained significantly more copulations after a fight than the males they defeated, but this was not true for intruder males who won long fights. These results suggest that male northern elephant seals will incur greater contest costs (i.e., fight for longer periods and/or against heavier males) for higher reproductive payoffs. They also imply that, at least for males in long fights, differences in prior residence represent payoff asymmetries, with higher reproductive payoffs for winning prior residents than for winning intruders.