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Journal of Experimental Biology partnership with Dryad

Dominance hierarchy formation in juvenile crayfish procambarus clarkii
F.A. Issa, D.J. Adamson, D.H. Edwards

Summary

The formation of social dominance hierarchies was studied in groups of five juvenile crayfish, 1.3-1.8 cm in length. Animals were grouped together in a small, featureless aquarium after having lived in isolation for more than a month. The occurrence of each of four behavior patterns (‘attack’, ‘approach’, ‘retreat’ and ‘escape’) was recorded for each animal, together with the frequency of encounters and the frequency of wins and losses. The frequencies of wins and losses were used to calculate the relative dominance value of each animal in the group. High levels of fighting developed immediately upon grouping the animals, and a positive feedback relationship between attacking and winning enabled one animal in each group to emerge quickly as the superdominant. If that animal was the largest, it remained as the superdominant; otherwise, it was replaced as superdominant within the first few days by the largest animal. This form of dominance hierarchy, with one superdominant and four subordinates, persisted throughout the duration of the grouping. Fighting declined over the first hour and by 24 h had dropped to low levels. After the first day, approaches were used together with attacks, and retreats replaced escapes. Attack and approach were the behavior patterns displayed most frequently by animals with high dominance values, whereas retreat and escape were performed by animals of low dominance. All these trends continued to develop over the next 2 weeks as the number of agonistic encounters declined to a low level.