An Investigation of Assessment Games During Fallow Deer Fights


Dómhnall Jennings, Department of Psychology, University of York, Heslington, York, YO10 5DD, UK. E-mail:


An improved understanding of the decision rules used by competing animals can be achieved by examining both the temporal structure and display rate of competitors during a contest. Current models of animal competition make different predictions regarding the behaviour of competing animals and the present study evaluates the predictions of three such models, the energetic war of attrition (eWOA), the sequential assessment game (SAG) and the cumulative assessment model (CAM) by applying them to the fighting behaviour of male fallow deer (Dama dama L.). There was no difference in rate at which the jump clash and backward push were recorded over fight duration; therefore, in terms of the temporal distribution of behavioural acts within fights, the jump clash and backward push conformed to the predictions of the SAG. There was a difference between winners and losers of fights for the frequency that the jump clash and backward push were recorded consistent with both the SAG and CAM. Analysis of bout duration showed that there was a decrease in the duration of subsequent bouts of fighting; this is only permitted under eWOA. In so far as current assessment models permit interpretation of the data, our results meet only a limited number of predictions of any one model. Given the difficulty in interpreting our data within the context of current assessment models, recommendations for the development of more complex models are presented.