Influence of prior contest experience and level of escalation on contest outcome
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- Kar, F., Whiting, M.J. & Noble, D.W.A. Behav Ecol Sociobiol (2016) 70: 1679. doi:10.1007/s00265-016-2173-4
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An individual’s contest history can have a significant effect on their probability of winning a future contest. These winner–loser effects are likely to be mediated by the level of escalation in a contest, although this is rarely considered in the contest literature. We staged contests between size-matched male water skinks (Eulamprus quoyii) in a tournament design to investigate how prior contest success indirectly affected contest outcome through its effects on contest behavior. Moreover, we predicted that the effect of behavioral traits on contest outcome would depend on the level of escalation reached by contestants (non-escalated versus escalated contests). Contest initiation was the best predictor of contest outcome in both non-escalated and escalated contests, and whether an individual initiated a contest depended on prior contest experience. Prior winners were more likely to initiate subsequent aggressive encounters, and by doing so, initiators had an 88 % probability of winning compared to non-initiators in non-escalated contests. However, this effect was mediated by the level of escalation. Initiators in escalated contests had only a 59 % probability of winning compared to non-initiators. These results suggest that the strength of the effect of prior contest experience on behavioral traits varies across contest stages and is consistent with the hypothesis that prior contest experience alters an individual’s perception of its own fighting ability. Our study highlights the importance of considering the level of contest escalation when examining winner–loser effects in predicting contest outcome.
Our results show that the effect of prior contest experience on contest initiation varies depending on the level of escalation reached by the contestants. We emphasize the importance of considering the level of contest escalation when examining the influence of prior contest experience on contest outcome.