Lack of Evidence for the Prior Residence Effect in the Allegheny Mountain Dusky Salamander (Desmognathus ochrophaeus)

Authors


T. Lynette Plenderleith, School of Biological Sciences, Monash University, Clayton, VIC 3800, Australia. E-mail: Lynette.Plenderleith@Monash.edu

Abstract

Territorial disputes are frequently settled by an advantage afforded to one of the contestants by asymmetries such as size difference, strength and motivation. Allegheny Mountain Dusky Salamanders (Desmognathus ochrophaeus) are reported to defend cover objects, a form of territorial behaviour. We conducted an experiment to determine whether or not adult salamanders of this species exhibit prior residence effect during staged encounters involving size-matched, same sex conspecifics (i.e. does familiarity with a territory predict successful defence?). We tested 154 adult salamanders (72 female, 82 male) in reciprocal trials in which each animal acted as a resident and as an intruder. We recorded multiple agonistic behaviours including: front-trunk raised, all-trunk raised, nudge, bite, bite-and-hold and jaw-lock. We assigned these behaviours scaled point values and calculated an index of aggression for each animal as a resident and as an intruder. We found that in same sex trials, males were significantly more aggressive than females. Although D. ochrophaeus exhibited stereotypical, agonistic behaviours similar to those reported for Plethodon, unlike Plethodon the outcomes of symmetrical social encounters were not influenced by residential status. Prior residence is documented to be a major determinant of territorial disputes among diverse animal taxa, including salamanders. However, our research suggests that the phenomenon is not universal and may depend on qualities of the microhabitat in which a species has evolved.

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