Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 69, Issue 3, pp 437–448 | Cite as

Dominance hierarchies and associated signalling in a cooperative passerine

  • Margaux Rat
  • René E. van Dijk
  • Rita Covas
  • Claire Doutrelant
Original Paper


In animal societies, individuals face the dilemma of whether to cooperate or to compete over a shared resource. Two intertwined mechanisms may help to resolve this enduring evolutionary dilemma by preventing conflicts and thereby mediating the costs of living in groups: the establishment of dominance hierarchies and the use of ‘badge-of-status’ for signalling dominance. We investigated these two mechanisms in the sociable weaver (Philetairus socius), a colonial and social passerine which cooperates over multiple tasks. We examined the sociable weavers’ dominance structure in 2 years by recording 2563 agonistic interactions between 152 individuals observed at a feeder at eight colonies. We tested which individual traits, including sex, age, relatedness and two melanin-based plumage traits, predicted variation in social status. First, using social network analysis, we found that colonies were structured by strongly ordered hierarchies which were stable between years. Second, medium-ranked birds engaged more in aggressive interactions than highly ranking individuals, suggesting that competition over food is most pronounced among birds of intermediate social status. Third, we found that colony size and kinship influenced agonistic interactions, so aggression was less pronounced in smaller colonies and among relatives. Finally, within- and between-individual variation in social status and the presence of an individual at the feeder were associated with variation in bib size, as predicted by the badge-of-status hypothesis. These results suggest that dominance hierarchies and bib size mediate conflicts in sociable weaver societies.


Dominance Cooperation Social status Badge of status Conflict Melanin 



We thank Matthieu Paquet, Lara Broom, Lisa Malm, Araceli Argüelles-Ticó, Cecile Houllé and Aurelien Prudor for their help with data collection in the field and Hugo Mathé-Hubert for statistical advice and Jennifer Kaden for molecularly determining the sex of individuals at the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Biomolecular Analysis Facility at the University of Sheffield, UK. We are grateful to Paul Acker and especially Ben Hatchwell for comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript and to De Beers Consolidated Mines, Ltd for allowing the access to Benfontein Nature Reserve. This project conformed to the legal requirements of South Africa and has received a research permit from the Northern Cape Province’s Department of Tourism and Environment and Conservation and an ethics approval from the University of Cape Town, South Africa. Our research was funded by the South African Research Foundation (South Africa) and the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence of the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology (PFIAO) to MR and RC, the ANR JCJC (09-JCJC-0050-01JCJC) and région Languedoc Roussillon (prog. chercheur(e)s d’avenir 2013, France) to CD; the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC, U.K., NE/G018588/1) to B. J. Hatchwell; CIBIO (Portugal, FCT PTDC/BIA-BEC/103818/2008) to RC and the EU 7th Framework Program IRSES (Cooperation to all). We finally thank the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, especially the late Phil Hockey for their logistic support.

Ethical standards

This study was realized with the permission of Northern Cape Nature Conservation, Northern Cape, South Africa (permit FAUNA 942/2012) and the approval of the Ethics Committee of the University of Cape Town (permit number 5869-2009). During capture, the birds queuing to be processed were allowed to rest in individual bird bags and were placed in a quiet, ventilated and shaded area. Processing each colony took on average 2.08 h (range 0.75–3.00 h) from extracting the birds from the nets until the last bird was released. We made sure that the handling time was kept to a minimum by always conducting captures with several experienced ringers and researchers. All the catching and ringing was done under R. Covas’s South African ringing license (SAFRING 1007). We are confident that the use of supplementary food did not increase the severity or frequency of aggression between the studied individuals as the frequency of fights (Table 1) at the feeder remained low, and similar aggressive interactions were observed naturally at all colonies when a feeder was not present. No individuals were ever observed to be injured due to an aggressive encounter at the feeder.

Supplementary material

265_2014_1856_MOESM1_ESM.docx (20 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 20 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Margaux Rat
    • 1
  • René E. van Dijk
    • 2
  • Rita Covas
    • 1
    • 3
    • 4
  • Claire Doutrelant
    • 1
    • 5
  1. 1.Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, DST-NRF Centre of ExcellenceUniversity of Cape TownRondeboschSouth Africa
  2. 2.Department of Animal and Plant SciencesUniversity of SheffieldSheffieldUK
  3. 3.CIBIO, Research Centre in Biodiversity and Genetic ResourcesCampus Agrário de Vairão, Rua Padre Armando QuintasVairãoPortugal
  4. 4.Biology DepartmentUniversity of PortoPortoPortugal
  5. 5.CEFE UMR 5175, CNRS—University. Montpellier—EPHEMontpellier, Cedex 05France

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