Social Rank, Stress, Fitness, and Life Expectancy in Wild Rabbits
- Cite this article as:
- von Holst, D., Hutzelmeyer, H., Kaetzke, P. et al. Naturwissenschaften (1999) 86: 388. doi:10.1007/s001140050638
Wild rabbits of the two sexes have separate linear rank orders, which are established and maintained by intensive fights. The social rank of individuals strongly influence their fitness: males and females that gain a high social rank, at least at the outset of their second breeding season, have a much higher lifetime fitness than subordinate individuals. This is because of two separate factors: a much higher fecundity and annual reproductive success and a 50% longer reproductive life span. These results are in contrast to the view in evolutionary biology that current reproduction can be increased only at the expense of future survival and/or fecundity. These concepts entail higher physiological costs in high-ranking mammals, which is not supported by our data: In wild rabbits the physiological costs of social positions are caused predominantly by differential psychosocial stress responses that are much lower in high-ranking than in low-ranking individuals.