Social status in female bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis): expression, development and reproductive correlates

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Abstract

Female bighorn sheep were studied over a 27-month period to quantify linearity and stability of social rank; expression of behaviour as a function of rank; development of rank relationships; and reproductive correlates of rank. Females exhibited a stable, non-linear hierarchy that correlated strongly with age. Dominant females used proportionally more threats, whereas subordinates used more subordinance patterns. Females integrated into the hierarchy at1–2 years of age and then fought their way to high social status. Dominant and subordinate females did not differ in pre-natal maternal investment, but dominant females nursed lambs at higher rates, and were more likely than subordinates to nurse alien lambs after their own lamb died.

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