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Med Hypotheses. 2009 Jul;73(1):5-14. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2009.02.011. Epub 2009 Apr 17.

Dominance as adaptive stressing and ranking of males, serving to allocate reproduction by differential self-suppressed fertility: towards a fully biological understanding of social systems.


Dominance is a biological concept of an asymmetric 'power' relationship between (any pair of) individuals, as a result of previous encounters with others biasing likelihood of contesting. That this requires dedicated neural structure shows that dominance is adaptive; and it is usually thought that fitness is increased through dominance (hierarchy) minimising mutually unproductive contest over resources, and/or determining access to or control over resources. But highly inconsistent data indicates that this operational definition is too wide, and given clear evidence that dominance is invariably same-sex, it would seem instead to function primarily to allocate reproduction. Dominance contest exposes individual differences in metabolic vigor especially, but also in various other, including sophisticated attributes; and by a self-organising process there is ranking of same-sex individuals in a hierarchy. But this achieves nothing in itself without an integral mechanism of corresponding individual variable self-suppression of the physiology re reproduction--and mate choice with rank as the criteria. Reproductive suppression would appear to vary along a continuum, from in some species (most 'cooperative breeders') a 100% reproductive skew with total suppression of all individuals bar the sole breeder to, in most others, a gradient down the length of the dominance hierarchy. The mechanism in most species is directly either hormonal or pheromonal, on top of an indirect consequence of the stress caused by relatively low rank. Dominance would seem to have evolved as a major instrument of the proposed 'genetic filter' function of the male, whereby in effect accumulated deleterious genetic material is 'quarantined' in the male half of the lineage from where it is purged, so as to keep this source of reproductive logjam away from females, thereby to avoid amplifying the problem of the female being necessarily the limiting factor in reproduction. The theory makes predictions mutually exclusive of the consensus model, that dominance/DH is: same-sex only; present whenever, within one or both sexes, there is potential conflict over reproduction, and there is no mechanism to preclude this, but otherwise is absent; always associated with some degree of differential physiological reproductive suppression. This new conceptualization of dominance has major implications for the social as well as biological sciences, in that resource-competition models of the basis of sociality will have to give way to a thoroughgoing biological understanding that places centre-stage not resources but reproduction; with consequent radical revision of notions of 'power'.

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