Two Sides of the Same Coin? Consistency in Aggression to Conspecifics and Predators in a Female Songbird


Kristal E. Cain, Department of Biology & Center for the Integrative Study of Animal Behavior, Indiana University, 1001 East 3rd Street, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA.


Different forms of aggression have traditionally been treated separately according to function or context (e.g., aggression towards a conspecific vs. a predator). However, recent work on individual consistency in behavior predicts that different forms of aggression may be correlated across contexts, suggesting a lack of independence. For nesting birds, aggression towards both conspecifics and nest predators can affect reproductive success, yet the relationship between these behaviors, especially in females, is not known. Here, we examine free-living female dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis) and compare their aggressive responses towards three types of simulated intruders near the nest: a same-sex conspecific, an opposite-sex conspecific, and a nest predator. We also examine differences in the strength of response that might relate to the immediacy of the perceived threat the intruder poses for the female or her offspring. We found greater aggression directed towards a predator than a same-sex intruder and towards a same-sex than an opposite-sex intruder, consistent with a predator being a more immediate threat than a same-sex intruder, followed by an opposite-sex intruder. We also found positive relationships across individuals between responses to a same-sex intruder and a simulated predator, and between responses to a same-sex and an opposite-sex intruder, indicating that individual females are consistent in their relative level of aggression across contexts. If correlated behaviors are mediated by related mechanisms, then different forms of aggression may be expressions of the same behavioral tendency and constrained from evolving independently.