Multiple contest experiences interact to influence each other’s effect on subsequent contest decisions in a mangrove killifish

Abstract

Many animals modify behavioural decisions based on information they have previously acquired. Contest behaviour is often affected by previous contest experiences: individuals behave more and less aggressively after a victory and defeat, respectively (winner/loser effect). Individuals in the field sometimes encounter multiple competitors in quick succession, but whether these experiences interact to influence each other’s importance is unclear. We tested five hypotheses for experience interaction (no interaction, retroactive interference, proactive interaction, reinforcement and diminishing returns) using Kryptolebias marmoratus. Focal individuals were paired up with opponents having the same 1-month contest outcome (1 month before the experiment), as this difference in actual or perceived fighting ability has been shown to affect the fish’s response to new experiences. We gave the focal individual of a pair a winning or losing experience on day 1. Then both fish of the pair received the same winning, losing or no-contest experience on day 2. Then we organised fights between the two. The effect of a day-1 losing experience did depend on the fish’s actual or perceived fighting ability: one-month losers readily showed loser effects from the day-1 losing experience, irrespective of the day-2 experience (i.e. no interaction between day-1 and day-2 experiences). One-month winners, however, only showed loser effects from a day-1 losing experience when the day-2 experience was also a loss (i.e. reinforcement). Day-1 winning experiences did not interact with day-2 experiences in 1-month losers or winners. Therefore, multiple experiences sometimes reinforce each other, but how they combine to influence behaviour depends on an individual’s actual or perceived fighting ability.

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Acknowledgments

We thank I-Han Lee, Yu-ju Chen, Jing-Huan Kuo and Wei-Lin Huang for assistance with data collection. We thank Alan Watson for help with comments and on the manuscript. We thank Drs. Ken Cheng and Robert W. Elwood and the anonymous reviewer for their thorough and helpful comments. This research was supported by Taiwan National Science Council (NSC 100-2621-B-003-004-MY3).

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Correspondence to Yuying Hsu.

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Hsu, Y., Huang, Y. & Wu, Y. Multiple contest experiences interact to influence each other’s effect on subsequent contest decisions in a mangrove killifish. Anim Cogn 17, 165–175 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-013-0649-4

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Keywords

  • Animal contest
  • Winner/loser effect
  • Information integration
  • Kryptolebias marmoratus
  • Mangrove killifish