Get access

Testosterone and Linear Social Dominance Status in Captive Male Dabbling Ducks in Winter


Hervé Fritz, Centre d'Etudes Biologiques de Chizé, CNRS UPR 1934, 79360 Beauvoir-sur-Niort, France. E-mail:


Dominance hierarchies play an important role in avoidance and/or solving conflicts in gregarious species. In dabbling ducks (Anas species), dominance allows for feeding-site monopolization in winter quarters where resources are generally limited. In addition, male social rank should theoretically favour access to mates. Dominance rank can be associated with morphological traits, and is often correlated with aggressiveness, a behavioural trait generally related to high testosterone levels. In this study, we investigated the existence of a winter group structure based on dominance relationships and tested for a linear hierarchy, in three species of captive male dabbling ducks (mallard Anas platyrhynchos, pintail A. acuta and wigeon A. penelope). We then analysed the relationship between dominance ranks, morphological parameters and testosterone levels measured in early (Oct.) and mid-winter (Dec./Jan.). We found that the three male groups of the three species exhibited a linear hierarchy. Testosterone levels differed during winter and between species. Morphologic measurements, body mass and body condition were not correlated with individual dominance ranks, whereas dominant males had higher testosterone levels than subordinates. The slopes of the relationships were similar between species and winter period, but the y-intercepts differed between species and between early and mid-winter phases. The linear hierarchy found in the three species indicates that dominance relationships strongly structure dabbling duck groups in winter. Lack of correlation between rank and morphological characters, but correlation of rank with testosterone levels suggests that social rank is more dependent on behavioural traits such as aggressive behaviour. The differences between species and winter periods are discussed in relation to migration and wintering phenology.