Royal Society Publishing

Eavesdropping on visual cues in green swordtail (Xiphophorus helleri) fights: a case for networking

R. L. Earley, L. A. Dugatkin


Aggressive contests probably occur in networking environments where information about fighting ability is conveyed both to an opponent and to individuals peripheral to the fight itself, the bystanders. Our primary aim was to investigate the relative influences of eavesdropping and prior social experience on the dynamics of aggressive contests in Xiphophorus helleri. A bystander's ability to witness an encounter was manipulated using clear, one–way mirror, and opaque partitions. After watching (or not watching) the initial contest, the bystander encountered either the winner or loser of the bout. Treatment comparisons of bystander–winner or bystander–loser contest dynamics indicated the presence or absence of winner, loser, or eavesdropping effects. Winner and loser effects had negligible influences on bystander contest dynamics. Eavesdropping significantly reduced the bystander's propensity to initiate aggression, escalate, and win against seen winners regardless of whether the watched bout had escalated or not. Though eavesdropping had relatively little effect on bystander–loser contest dynamics, bystanders were less prone to initiate aggression and win against losers that had escalated in the witnessed bout. Thus, bystanders appear to preferentially retain and utilize information gained about potentially dangerous opponents (winners or persistent losers). Our data lend clear support for the importance of eavesdropping in visually based aggressive signalling systems.

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