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Structure of the Dominance Hierarchy and Dominance Determining "Group Factors" in Melanochromis Auratus (Pisces, Cichlidae)

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Two questions are asked: (1) Which relation is there between the dominance hierarchy and communication? (2) Which are the dominance determining factors that are a result of group life ("group factors") and that cannot be found in pairs of animals? Melanochromis auratus, a cichlid fish from Lake Malawi, is studied under laboratory conditions as a representative model. Dominance relations in pairs of animals differ from those (between the same fishes) in groups of conspecifics. In groups M. auratus establishes and maintains a linear dominance hierarchy, of which the communicative structure is described and discussed. The number of aggressive interactions between two group members, is determined by the rank number of the actor and the reactor. Most interactions occur between rank neighbours. "Group factors" are looked for by analysing the clustering of all possible chase-interactions. Four categories of such clusterings are discussed: a preceding aggressive interaction can have an influence on high-ranked animals, the effect of such an influence is directed towards low-ranked animals. The stable hierarchy can be changed by successive circle fights. The highest-ranked group members always intervene in circle fights in order to stabilize the hierarchy, for their own benefit. This is another "group factor". An alpha animal has to spend all its energy in obtaining and maintaining its rank status. When it looses this position, it drops down the hierarchy. The benefit of the alpha place could be the reproductive succes.

Affiliations: 1: Laboratory of General Zoology, RUCA, University of Antwerp, B-2020 Antwerp, Belgium


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