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Biol Bull. 2007 Aug;213(1):21-7.

Direct benefits of social dominance in juvenile crayfish.

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Department of Psychology, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland 20742, USA.


Crayfish are known for their innate aggressiveness and willingness to quickly establish dominance relationships among group members. Consequently, the formation of dominance hierarchies and the analysis of behavioral patterns displayed during agonistic encounters have mostly been tested in environments that provide no immediate resources besides space. We tested the hypothesis that social hierarchy formation in crayfish serves to determine access to future resources. Individuals within groups of three juvenile crayfish were allowed to form a social hierarchy in a featureless environment before a single food resource was presented. Higher dominance indices were significantly correlated with increased access to the food. The highest ranked crayfish spent more time in contact with the food than did medium-ranked and lowest ranked crayfish, and crayfish of medium rank spent more time in contact with the resource than did lowest ranked animals. The highest ranked crayfish consolidated their dominant status in the presence of food, indicated by a complete absence of any submissive behaviors during that period. The results of these experiments show that the disposition of crayfish to engage in fighting and formation of a dominance hierarchy in a featureless environment serves to determine future access to an emerging resource, thereby entailing greater benefits for animals of higher social rank.

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