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Causes and consequences of contest outcome: aggressiveness, dominance and growth in the sheepshead swordtail, Xiphophorus birchmanni

Abstract

Although our understanding of how animal personality affects fitness is incomplete, one general hypothesis is that personality traits (e.g. boldness and aggressiveness) contribute to competitive ability. If so, then under resource limitation, personality differences will generate variation in life history traits crucial to fitness, like growth. Here, we test this idea using data from same-sex dyadic interaction trials of sheepshead swordtails (Xiphophorus birchmanni). In males, there was evidence of repeatable variation across a suite of agonistic contest behaviours, while repeatable opponent effects on focal behaviour were also detected. A single vector explains 80 % of the among-individual variance in multivariate phenotype and can be viewed as aggressiveness. We also find that aggressiveness predicts dominance—the repeatable tendency to win food in competition—and dominant individuals show faster post-trial weight gain (independently of initial size). In females, a dominance hierarchy predictive of weight gain was also found, but there was no evidence of variation in aggressiveness. While size often predicts contest outcome, our results show that individuals may sometimes grow larger because they are behaviourally dominant rather than vice versa. When resources are limited, personality traits such as aggression can influence growth, life history, and fitness through impacts on resource acquisition.

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Acknowledgments

This work was funded by a BBSRC David Phillips Fellowship awarded to AJW. We thank the Mexican federal government for the permission to collect fish, and Holly Kindsvater, Olivia Ochoa, Gaston Jofre, and Palestina Guevara Fiore for their assistance with collection and transport. We also thank the technicians of the animal care facility at the University of Edinburgh for their assistance with husbandry.

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Correspondence to Alastair J Wilson.

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Communicated by N. Dingemanse

Ethics standards

All work described here was subject to approval by local ethical review (University of Edinburgh Local Ethical Review Committee) and conducted under the auspices of the Home Office (UK) under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. Criteria were in place to terminate any behavioural trial immediately in the event of physical injury or overt distress to any animal. This was not deemed necessary on any occasion, and no fish received physical injury during the experiments conducted.

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Wilson, A.J., Grimmer, A. & Rosenthal, G.G. Causes and consequences of contest outcome: aggressiveness, dominance and growth in the sheepshead swordtail, Xiphophorus birchmanni . Behav Ecol Sociobiol 67, 1151–1161 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-013-1540-7

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-013-1540-7

Keywords

  • Xiphophorus
  • Personality
  • Aggression
  • Dominance
  • Resource-dependence
  • Competition