Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp 37–44 | Cite as

Dung fly struggles: A test of the war of attrition

  • G. A. Parker
  • E. A. Thompson


  1. 1.

    In Maynard Smith's ‘war of attrition’ model of animal conflict, two identical opponents fight over a unitary resource and the winner is the individual that is prepared to go on longer. The evolutionarily stable strategy (ESS) is for individuals to vary in their selection of ‘bids’ (fighting durations) so that the probability density of bids follows a negative exponential distribution. In nature, the distribution of selected bids cannot be observed directly, because contests are terminated by the opponent with the lower bid. We therefore derive an expected distribution of contest persistence times.

  2. 2.

    Struggles between male dung flies (Scatophaga stercoraria) for possession of a female can be evaluated in terms of Darwinian fitness as expected number of eggs fertilised/time. Fitness calculations must account for the energetic costs of struggling relative to searching for an alternative female; a plausible range of relative energetic costs is deduced. Though there is a superficial concordance of observed struggle persistence times with that predicted from a war of attrition with linear costs, this breaks down when the data are analysed in component categories. Further, dung fly struggles are clearly asymmetric contests. We suggest that struggles are settled by a form of assessment strategy involving acquisition of information during the contest about the relative resource holding powers of the two contestants.



Energetic Cost Evolutionarily Stable Strategy Unitary Resource Fitness Calculation Linear Cost 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Baker RR (1972) Territorial behaviour of the nymphalid butterflies, Aglais urticae (L.) and Inachis ia (L.). J Anim Ecol 41:453–469Google Scholar
  2. Bishop DT, Cannings C (1978) A generalised war of attrition. J Theor Biol 70:85–124Google Scholar
  3. Chadwick LE (1947) The respiratory quotient of Drosophila in flight. Biol Bull 93:229–239Google Scholar
  4. Chadwick LE, Gilmour D (1940) Respiration during flight in Drosophila repleta Wollaston: the oxygen consumption considered in relation to the wing-rate. Physiol Zool 8:398–410Google Scholar
  5. Hammer O (1941) Biological and ecological investigations on flies associated with pasturing cattle and their excrement. Vidensk Medd Dan Naturhist Foren (Khobenhavn) 105:1–257Google Scholar
  6. Hocking B (1953) The intrinsic range and speed of flight of insects. Trans R Entomol Soc (London) 104:223–345Google Scholar
  7. Maynard Smith J (1974) The theory of games and the evolution of animal conflicts. J Theor Biol 47:209–222Google Scholar
  8. Maynard Smith J, Parker GA (1976) The logic of asymmetric contests. Anim Behav 24:159–175Google Scholar
  9. Maynard Smith J, Price GR (1973) The logic of animal conflict. Nature 246:15–18Google Scholar
  10. McCann FV, Boettiger EG (1952) Relation between oxygen consumption and wing load in flies. Fed Proc 11:1Google Scholar
  11. Norman RF, Taylor PD, Robertson RJ (1977) Stable equilibrium strategies and penalty functions in a game of attrition. J Theor Biol 65:571–578Google Scholar
  12. Parker GA (1970a) Sperm competition and its evolutionary consequences on copula duration in the fly, Scatophaga stercoraria. J Insect Physiol 16:1301–1328Google Scholar
  13. Parker GA (1970b) The reproductive behaviour and the nature of sexual selection in Scatophaga stercoraria L. (Diptera: Scatophagidae). IV. Epigamic recognition and competition between males for the possession of females. Behaviour 37:113–139Google Scholar
  14. Parker GA (1970c) The reproductive behaviour and the nature of sexual selection in Scatophaga stercoraria L. (Diptera: Scatophagidae). II. The fertilization rate and the spatial and temporal relationships of each sex around the site of mating and oviposition. J Anim Ecol 39:205–228Google Scholar
  15. Parker GA (1971) The reproductive behaviour and the nature of sexual selection in Scatophaga stercoraria L. (Diptera: Scatophagidae). VI. The adaptive significance of emigration from the oviposition site during the phase of genital contact. J Anim Ecol 40:215–233Google Scholar
  16. Parker GA (1974a) Assessment strategy and the evolution of fighting behaviour. J Theor Biol 47:223–243Google Scholar
  17. Parker GA (1974b) The reproductive behaviour and the nature of sexual selection in Scatophaga stercoraria L. (Diptera: Scatophagidae). VIII. The behaviour of searching males. J Entomol [A] 48:199–211Google Scholar
  18. Parker GA (1978a) Searching for mates. In: Krebs JR, Davies NB (eds) Behavioural ecology: an evolutionary approach. Blackwell, Oxford, pp 214–244Google Scholar
  19. Parker GA (1978b) The evolution of competitive mate searching. Annu Rev Entomol 23:173–196Google Scholar
  20. Prosser CL, Brown FA (1961) Comparative animal physiology, 2nd edn. Saunders, PhiladelphiaGoogle Scholar
  21. Selten R (1978) A note on evolutionary stable strategies in asymmetric animal conflicts. Working papers, no. 73. Bielefeld, Institute of Mathematical EconomicsGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1980

Authors and Affiliations

  • G. A. Parker
    • 1
  • E. A. Thompson
    • 1
  1. 1.King's CollegeCambridgeEngland

Personalised recommendations