Monday, 18 April 2016

'Winner-winner' behavior may shape animal hierarchies, study argues

Date: April 14, 2016
Source: North Carolina State University

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."


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