Nav: Home

Study argues 'winner-winner' behavior may shape animal hierarchies

April 14, 2016

Researchers have developed a behavioral model that explains the complexity and diversity of social hierarchies in ants, and which scientists believe may help us understand the nature of other animal societies - from primates to dolphins. The work was done by researchers at North Carolina State University, the University of Oxford and Arizona State University.

"Earlier research on animal hierarchies has focused almost exclusively on behaviors that have a clear winner and loser, because this is how a single individual can establish dominance," says Clint Penick, a postdoctoral researcher at NC State and co-lead author of a paper on the work. "But this doesn't help us understand animal societies where there is a group of dominant individuals rather than a single 'alpha.' We think that some dominance behaviors are actually winner-winner interactions, increasing the social authority or standing of both participants."

The researchers began by examining the behaviors and social hierarchy of the well-studied Indian jumping ant (Harpegnathos saltator). When an H. saltator colony's queen dies, the female workers engage in ritual fights to establish dominance. While these battles can be fierce, they rarely result in physical injury to the workers. Ultimately, a group of approximately 10 workers will establish dominance and become a cadre of worker queens or "gamergates."

A social hierarchy like that seen with H. saltator's gamergates is called a shared dominance hierarchy. Most of other ant societies establish despotic hierarchies or linear hierarchies. In a despotic hierarchy, one individual is dominant and all other individuals share the same subordinate status. In a linear hierarchy, there is a clear pecking order: there is a dominant alpha, a beta who is dominant over all but the alpha, a gamma who is dominant over all but the alpha and beta, and so on.

The researchers identified three behaviors related to establishing a hierarchy in H. saltator: biting, in which one ant bites another's head, has a clear winner and loser, with the winner establishing dominance; policing, in which subordinate workers restrain challengers to a dominant individual; and dueling, in which two individuals engage in a martial display with their antennae, but which has no clear loser.

"We were curious as to whether dueling results in a winner and a loser, or if it is a winner-winner interaction that allows workers to express aggression without requiring a loser," says Jürgen Liebig, an associate professor at Arizona State University who is senior author on the study. Penick adds that dueling may be like, "a couple of football players psyching each other up before a game."

To explore this question, the researchers created a computer model that allowed them to manipulate all three behaviors in order to see how the behaviors affected the social structure of a colony.

When biting was present, but policing and dueling were absent, the model resulted in a linear hierarchy. When biting and strong policing were present, the model resulted in a despotic hierarchy with a single dominant individual. It was only when biting, policing and winner-winner dueling were all present that the model resulted in a shared dominance hierarchy. A video explaining the work is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ddqMKcO6ovI.

"We see examples of all three types of social hierarchies in various ant species, but we also see them throughout the animal kingdom - and we know that shared dominance hierarchies can be found in animal societies from lions to dolphins," Penick says. "Higher cognition certainly plays a role in shaping the societies of many vertebrates, but we think the presence or absence of winner-winner behaviors may be an important factor in determining the nature of dominance hierarchies for a wide variety of species."
-end-
The paper, "A simple behavioral model predicts the emergence of complex animal hierarchies," is published in the journal The American Naturalist. Co-lead author of the paper is Takao Sasaki of Oxford. The paper was co-authored by Zachary Shaffer, Kevin Haight, Stephen Pratt and Jürgen Liebig of Arizona State.

North Carolina State University

Related Behaviors Articles:

Declawing linked to aggression and other abnormal behaviors in cats
According to research published today in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery*, declawing increases the risk of long-term or persistent pain, manifesting as unwanted behaviors such as inappropriate elimination (soiling/urinating outside of the litter box) and aggression/biting.
Parenting-based therapies are best for children with disruptive behaviors
Therapy that involves the parents in the treatment of children with disruptive behavior disorders shows the best results compared to more than 20 other therapeutic approaches, according to a new study published today in the Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, a journal of the Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology.
Imbalances in neural pathways may contribute to repetitive behaviors in autism
Researchers in Guoping Feng's lab at MIT hypothesized that a mutation in the autism risk gene SHANK3 differentially affects synaptic development in two neural pathways that contribute to motor control.
Physical inactivity and sedentary behaviors associated with cardiometabolic risk factors
Greater time spent in physical activities with moderate-high intensity and less time devoted to sedentary activities, such as watching television, are associated with a lower presence of cardiometabolic risk factors including obesity, diabetes and certain individual components of metabolic syndrome, according to the first results published from the multicentric study PREDIMED-PLUS.
Researchers can predict terrorist behaviors with more than 90 percent accuracy
Government agencies cannot always use social media and telecommunication to uncover the intentions of terrorists as terrorists are now more careful in utilizing these technologies for planning and preparing for attacks.
Clarifying the behaviors of negative hydrogen ions
The National Institutes of Natural Sciences National Institute for Fusion Science (NIFS) has succeeded in revealing the flow of negative hydrogen ions using a combination of infrared lasers and electrostatic probes in the ion-source plasma, which generates a negative-hydrogen-ion beam.
How your parenting tactics influence your teen's problem behaviors
In a new study, published in, Journal of Youth and Adolescence, Misaki Natsuaki, psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside, and Laura Dimler, a graduate student in psychology at UCR, found that when teens viewed their parents' parenting tactics more negatively than parents did, they showed elevated levels of aggressive behaviors.
After decades of research, science is no better able to predict suicidal behaviors
Experts' ability to predict if someone will attempt to take his or her own life is no better than chance and has not significantly improved over the last 50 years, according to a comprehensive review of suicide research published by the American Psychological Association.
Positive and negative memories and behaviors are split up in the brains of mice
Within the amygdala, an important memory center in the brain, pleasant experiences, tastes, and smells are confined to the back of the basolateral nucleus, while unpleasant ones are stored at the front.
Are violent video games associated with more civic behaviors among youth?
Whether violent video games influence the behavior of youth has been a debate that has split the academic community for years.

Related Behaviors Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Anthropomorphic
Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#SB2 2019 Science Birthday Minisode: Mary Golda Ross
Our second annual Science Birthday is here, and this year we celebrate the wonderful Mary Golda Ross, born 9 August 1908. She died in 2008 at age 99, but left a lasting mark on the science of rocketry and space exploration as an early woman in engineering, and one of the first Native Americans in engineering. Join Rachelle and Bethany for this very special birthday minisode celebrating Mary and her achievements. Thanks to our Patreons who make this show possible! Read more about Mary G. Ross: Interview with Mary Ross on Lash Publications International, by Laurel Sheppard Meet Mary Golda...