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Seizing the Opportunity: Subordinate Male Fowl Respond Rapidly to Variation in Social Context

Authors


David R. Wilson, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Windsor, 401 Sunset Avenue, Windsor, ON N9B 3P4, Canada. E-mail: drwilson@uwindsor.ca

Abstract

Dominance affects mating and reproductive success in many group-living species. Potential mechanisms include subordinates being inherently less attractive and social constraints imposed by dominant individuals. To test the former possibility, we measured morphology in 45 male fowl, Gallus gallus, prior to group formation. Males were then assigned to social groups (three males and three females in each). None of the measured traits predicted subsequent social status, suggesting that subordinates were not inherently unattractive. We then manipulated social constraints in each group to test if subordinates were socially constrained. We removed either the alpha (experimental) or the gamma male (control) for 40 min and observed the effect on the beta male’s reproductive behavior. Controls accounted for putative group size and disturbance effects, and ensured that the only difference between treatments was the relative dominance of the remaining male. In each trial, we measured the beta male’s courtship effort and his mating success, as well as his proximity to females and to the remaining male. Results show that social context did not affect mating success, but had a significant impact on courtship behavior. Beta males courted significantly more often when they had exclusive access to a female, as opposed to when another male was nearby. Furthermore, their courtship effort was higher if the nearby male was a fellow subordinate, as opposed to the dominant male. We conclude that both the proximity and social status of nearby males affects, either directly or indirectly, the courtship efforts of subordinate male fowl.

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