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Biol Bull. 2016 Apr;230(2):152-64.

Effects of Different Social and Environmental Conditions on Established Dominance Relationships in Crayfish.

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Department of Psychology and Neuroscience and Cognitive Science Program, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland 20742
Department of Psychology and Neuroscience and Cognitive Science Program, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland 20742.
Department of Psychology and.


Like most social animals, crayfish readily form dominance relationships and linear social hierarchies when competing for limited resources. Competition often entails dyadic aggressive interactions, from which one animal emerges as the dominant and one as the subordinate. Once dominance relationships are formed, they typically remain stable for extended periods of time; thus, access to future resources is divided unequally among conspecifics. We previously showed that firmly established dominance relationships in juvenile crayfish can be disrupted by briefly adding a larger conspecific to the original pair. This finding suggested that the stability of social relationships in crayfish was highly context-dependent and more transient than previously assumed. We now report results that further identify the mechanisms underlying the destabilization of crayfish dominance relationships. We found that rank orders remained stable when conspecifics of smaller or equal size were added to the original pair, suggesting that both dominant and subordinate must be defeated by a larger crayfish in order to destabilize dominance relationships. We also found that dominance relationships remained stable when both members of the original pair were defeated by larger conspecifics in the absence of their original opponent. This showed that dominance relationships are not destabilized unless both animals experience defeat together. Lastly, we found that dominance relationships of pairs were successfully disrupted by larger intruders, although with reduced magnitude, after all chemical cues associated with earlier agonistic experiences were eliminated. These findings provide important new insights into the contextual features that regulate the stability of social dominance relationships in crayfish and probably in other species as well.

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