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Abstract

Our previous research showed that territorial threespine sticklebacks are more aggressive toward a male conspecific placed in their territory if they have been housed adjacent to a gravid female rather than a male or a nongravid female. This study replicated the condition of a territorial male with an adjacently housed male and compared the results with isolated territorial males. This permitted us to contrast explanations for the increased aggression when the neighbor was a gravid female. If the social context determines the level of aggression, then males with no neighbors (isolates) might be less aggressive because there would be no unique reproductive resource to protect nor any neighbor to protect resources from. Alternatively, if aggression is higher in the isolated group it might be because there was no male neighbor to redirect aggression toward. We found that isolated males were more aggressive toward an intruded male stimulus than males with a male neighbor. The study also provided evidence that sensitization produced by the appearance of an intruding male energizes other aggressive behavior, but not those related to feeding, nor does it cause increase in general activation as measured by increased locomotion.