Journal of Ethology

, Volume 28, Issue 2, pp 239–244 | Cite as

The function of aggression in the swordtail, Xiphophorus helleri: resource defence

  • Kit Magellan
  • Horst Kaiser


Competition for mating opportunities may involve exclusion of intrasexual competitors (direct) or defending resources necessary to attract mates (indirect). Male swordtails (Xiphophorus helleri) engage in direct competition. Moreover in natural populations they defend a home range. This study aimed to test whether this home range defence is a form of food resource defence, which may therefore have a female attraction function. Male swordtails did defend a food resource and showed increased aggression in the presence of both food and females. However, food resource defence decreased when females were present, suggesting that both food and females are treated as defendable resources.


Aggression Resource defence Dominance Home range Male size 



We thank several anonymous referees for their comments on this manuscript. This work was funded by the Rhodes University Postdoctoral Fellowship (KM).


  1. Abrahams MV (1993) The trade-off between foraging and courting in male guppies. Anim Behav 45:673–681CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Andersson MB (1994) Sexual selection. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  3. Archer J (1988) The behavioural biology of aggression. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  4. Bausell RB, Li Y-F (2002) Power analysis for experimental research: a practical guide for the biological, medical and social sciences. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Beaugrand JP, Goulet C (2000) Distinguishing kinds of prior dominance and subordination experiences in males of green swordtail fish (Xiphophorus helleri). Behav Process 50:131–142CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Beaugrand JP, Goulet C, Payette D (1991) Outcome of dyadic conflict in male green swordtail fish, Xiphophorus helleri: effects of body size and prior dominance. Anim Behav 41:417–424CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Benson KE, Basolo AL (2006) Male–male competition and the sword in male swordtails, Xiphophorus helleri. Anim Behav 71:129–134CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Brown JL (1964) The evolution of diversity in avian territorial systems. Wil Bull 76:160–169Google Scholar
  9. Buzatto BA, Machado G (2008) Resource defense polygyny shifts to female defense polygyny over the course of the reproductive season of a Neotropical harvestman. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 63:85–94CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cohen J (1988) Statistical power analysis for the behavioural sciences, 2nd edn. Lawrence Erlbaum, LondonGoogle Scholar
  11. Earley RL, Tinsley M, Dugatkin LA (2003) To see or not to see: does previewing a future opponent affect the contest behaviour of green swordtail males (Xiphophorus helleri)? Naturwissen 90:226–230CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Emlen ST (1980) Ecological determinism and sociobiology. In: Barlow GW, Silverberg J (eds) Sociobiology: beyond nature/nurture. Westview, Colorado, pp 125–150Google Scholar
  13. Emlen ST, Oring LW (1977) Ecology, sexual selection, and the evolution of mating systems. Science 197:215–223CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Faul F, Erdfelder E, Lang A-G, Buchner A (2007) G*Power 3: a flexible statistical power analysis program for the social, behavioral and biomedical sciences. Behav Res Methods 36:175–191Google Scholar
  15. Franck D, Ribowski A (1993) Dominance hierarchies of male green swordtails (Xiphophorus helleri) in nature. J Fish Biol 43:497–499CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Franck D, Klamroth B, Taebel-Hellwig A, Schartl M (1998) Home ranges and satellite tactics of male green swordtails (Xiphophorus helleri) in nature. Behav Process 43:115–123CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Grant JWA (1993) Whether or not to defend? The influence of resource distribution. Mar Behav Physiol 23:137–153CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Härdling R, Kokko H, Elwood RW (2004) Priority versus brute force: when should males begin guarding resources? Am Nat 163:240–252CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Howell DC (2002) Statistical methods for psychology, 5th edn. Duxbury, CaliforniaGoogle Scholar
  20. Hsu Y, Earley RL, Wolf LL (2006) Modulation of aggressive behaviour by fighting experience: mechanisms and contest outcomes. Biol Rev 81:33–74CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Huntingford F, Turner A (1987) Animal conflict. Chapman and Hall, LondonGoogle Scholar
  22. Jordan NR, Cherry MI, Manser MB (2007) Latrine distribution and patterns of use by wild meerkats: implications for territory and mate defence. Anim Behav 73:613–622CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kelly CD (2008) The interrelationships between resource-holding potential, resource value and reproductive success in territorial males: How much variation can we explain? Behav Ecol Sociobiol 62:855–871CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Kolluru GR, Grether GF (2004) The effects of resource availability on alternative mating tactics in guppies (Poecilia reticulata). Behav Ecol 16:294–300CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Kwiatkowski MA, Sullivan BK (2002) Mating system structure and population density in a polygynous lizard, Sauro malus obesus (= ater). Behav Ecol 13:201–208CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Loyau A, Saint Jalme M, Sorci G (2007) Non-defendable resources affect peafowl lek organization: a male removal study. Behav Process 74:64–70CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Matsumoto K, Kohda M (2004) Territorial defense against various food competitors in the Tanganyikan benthophagus cichlid Neolamprologous tetracanthus. Ichthyol Res 51:354–359CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Meffe GK, Snelson FF (1989) Ecology and evolution of livebearing fishes. Prentice Hall, Englewood CliffsGoogle Scholar
  29. Missoweit M, Sauer KP (2007) Not all Panorpa (Mecoptera: Panorpidae) scorpionfly mating systems are characterised by resource defence polygyny. Anim Behav 74:1207–1213CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Morris MR, Batra P, Ryan MJ (1992) Male–male competition and access to females in the swordtail Xiphophorus nigrensis. Copeia 1992:980–986CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Ward AJW, Webster MM, Hart PJB (2006) Intraspecific food competition in fishes. Fish Fish 7:231–261Google Scholar
  32. Williams JM, Oehlert GW, Carlis JV, Pusey AE (2004) Why do male chimpanzees defend a group range? Anim Behav 68:523–532CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Japan Ethological Society and Springer 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Ichthyology and Fisheries ScienceRhodes UniversityGrahamstownSouth Africa

Personalised recommendations