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The role of various sensory inputs in establishing social hierarchies in crayfish

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Crayfish form social hierarchies through agonistic interactions. During formation of social hierarchies, individual crayfish establish dominance by signalling status through olfaction, vision and touch. Our study investigated which of these three sensory modalities played the most important role in establishing dominance in rusty crayfish (Orconectes rusticus). Olfaction, vision and touch were systematically impaired in staged triadic and dyadic agonistic interactions to determine the relative contribution of each sensory input. Our results suggest that olfaction is the most important sensory modality during the initial formation of dominance hierarchies in rusty crayfish. Using olfaction alone, crayfish were capable of communicating social status with sensory competent crayfish; without full olfactory ability crayfish were unable to effectively establish dominance. Vision and touch were also found to play practical roles in reducing unnecessary risk; with antennae for touch, functionally reducing the number of fight initiations, and vision allowing a crayfish under imminent attack to ready itself, strike first, or retreat.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Biology, Lakehead University, 955 Oliver Road, Thunder Bay, ON, Canada P7B 5E1


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