Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 64, Issue 8, pp 1299–1307 | Cite as

Secondary sexual characters signal fighting ability and determine social rank in Alpine ibex (Capra ibex)

  • Patrick BergeronEmail author
  • Stefano Grignolio
  • Marco Apollonio
  • Bill Shipley
  • Marco Festa-Bianchet
Original Paper


Social dominance is a fundamental aspect of male evolutionary ecology in polygynous mammals because it determines access to estrous females. As it is rarely possible to monitor marked individuals of known morphology, little is known about the determinants of male dominance. We studied the social structure of Alpine ibex males in Gran Paradiso National Park, Italy in 2003, 2006, and 2007. Dominance interactions produced a linear social hierarchy. In ibex males, body mass and horn length are key traits in male-male combat, and both increase with age. We explored the links between age, body mass, horn length, and social rank. Ibex males showed much age-independent phenotypic heterogeneity and rapidly growing males reached high rank at a younger age than slow-growing males. Because there is no trade-off between horn growth and longevity, fast-growing males may face weak potential costs of rapid growth and high fitness benefit of achieving high rank. Violent interactions were more likely to occur between males similar in both mass and horn length, independently of age. We suggest that only high-quality individuals can afford a strategy of rapid growth for both secondary sexual characters, and likely reap substantial fitness benefits.


Alpine ibex Capra ibex Dominance Hierarchy Horn Body mass Sexual selection 



We thank B. Bassano, L. Jocollé, and A. von Hardenberg for capturing ibex; the Park wardens, J.-S. Babin, X. Francoeur, G. Szor, M. Landini, and S. Pighetti for help in the field. Constructive comments from D. Garant, J. Martin, and the two referees greatly improved this manuscript. We also thank I. Rossi and T. Monti for collaboration in the data collection and management. Our experimental protocol was approved by the Université de Sherbrooke Animal Care Committee (Protocol MFB07), which adheres to the guidelines of the Canadian Council on Animal Care. The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (scholarship to P. B. and research grant to M. F.-B.) provided financial support and GPNP provided logistical support and financial support (research grant to S. G. and M. A.).

Supplementary material

265_2010_944_MOESM1_ESM.doc (76 kb)
ESM 1 (DOC 76 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Patrick Bergeron
    • 1
    Email author
  • Stefano Grignolio
    • 2
  • Marco Apollonio
    • 2
  • Bill Shipley
    • 1
  • Marco Festa-Bianchet
    • 1
  1. 1.Département de biologieUniversité de SherbrookeSherbrookeCanada
  2. 2.Dipartimento di zoologia e genetica evoluzionisticaUniversity of SassariSassariItaly

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