Knowing your audience affects male–male interactions in Siamese fighting fish (Betta splendens)
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Aggressive interactions between animals often occur in the presence of third parties. By observing aggressive signalling interactions, bystanders may eavesdrop and gain relevant information about conspecifics without the costs of interacting. On the other hand, interactants may also adjust their behaviour when an audience is present. This study aimed to test how knowledge about fighting ability of an audience affects aggressive interactions in male Siamese fighting fish. Subjects were positioned between two dyads of non-interacting males and allowed to observe both dyads shortly before the view to one of the dyads was blocked, and the dyads were allowed to interact. Subjects were subsequently exposed to an unknown opponent in the presence of either the winner or the loser of the seen or unseen interaction. The results suggest a complex role of the characteristic of an audience in the agonistic behaviours of a subject engaged in an interaction. The presence of a seen audience elicited more aggressive displays towards the opponent if the audience was a loser. This response was different in the presence of an unseen audience. Subjects then directed a higher aggressiveness against their opponent if the audience was a winner. These results also suggest a potentially more complex and interesting process allowing individuals to gain information about the quality and threat level of an unknown audience while it is interacting with a third party. The importance of information acquisition for an individual to adapt its behaviour and the role of communication networks in shaping social interactions are discussed.
KeywordsAggression Audience effect Betta splendens Communication network Eavesdropping Siamese fighting fish Visual display
We thank Giuliano Matessi for valuable comments and input. We are grateful to Sarah Till Boysen and two anonymous reviewers for their comments on a previous version of this manuscript. This research was supported by a Framework Grant (no. 272-07-0477) from the Danish National Research Council to TD. RM was supported by Fundacao para a Ciência e Tecnologia (Post Doctoral Grant SFRH/BPD/12872/2003).
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