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Keywords:

  • dominance behaviour;
  • social insect;
  • reproductive dominance;
  • queenless ant;
  • social conflicts

Abstract

Many social species with relatively simple societies have dominance hierarchies of individuals, with dominant individuals achieving fitness and subordinate individuals either queuing to obtain fitness or achieving only indirect fitness by helping relatives. Assessing the dominance hierarchy in a social group is generally based upon observing dyadic interactions as and when they occur spontaneously within the whole-group setting. However, this method can be very time-consuming because many dyads interact only very rarely, necessitating either extremely long observation periods or many dyadic relationships being unresolved. Here, we report an alternative method using the queenless dinosaur ant Dinoponera quadriceps, which lives in colonies containing tens of individuals. We removed all individuals from their nest and observed the dominance behaviours expressed in isolated dyadic interactions for every pairwise combination of individuals. Individuals showed a classic dominance behaviour in this setting, and the rapid nature of the assay allowed us to observe every dyadic relationship on a weekly basis over 4 weeks. The dominance hierarchies based on these isolated dyadic interactions correlated well with those produced by the conventional method of colony observations. They showed the hierarchies to be highly linear and stable, and also revealed that dominance relationships may extend further down the hierarchy than previously thought. Although highly manipulative, the isolated dyadic interaction method works well and will likely make more feasible the study of other social species in which pairs of individuals can be isolated together.