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The outcomes of most aggressive interactions among closely related bird species are asymmetric.

  • Martin, Paul R1
  • Freshwater, Cameron2
  • Ghalambor, Cameron K3
  • 1 Department of Biology, Queen's University , Kingston , Ontario , Canada.
  • 2 Department of Biology, University of Victoria , Victoria , British Columbia , Canada.
  • 3 Department of Biology and Graduate Degree Program in Ecology, Colorado State University , Fort Collins , Colorado , United States.
Published Article
Publication Date
DOI: 10.7717/peerj.2847
PMID: 28070465


Aggressive interactions among closely related species are common, and can play an important role as a selective pressure shaping species traits and assemblages. The nature of this selective pressure depends on whether the outcomes of aggressive contests are asymmetric between species (i.e., one species is consistently dominant), yet few studies have estimated the prevalence of asymmetric versus symmetric outcomes to aggressive contests. Here we use previously published data involving 26,212 interactions between 270 species pairs of birds from 26 taxonomic families to address the question: How often are aggressive interactions among closely related bird species asymmetric? We define asymmetry using (i) the proportion of contests won by one species, and (ii) statistical tests for asymmetric outcomes of aggressive contests. We calculate these asymmetries using data summed across different sites for each species pair, and compare results to asymmetries calculated using data separated by location. We find that 80% of species pairs had aggressive outcomes where one species won 80% or more of aggressive contests. We also find that the majority of aggressive interactions among closely related species show statistically significant asymmetries, and above a sample size of 52 interactions, all outcomes are asymmetric following binomial tests. Species pairs with dominance data from multiple sites showed the same dominance relationship across locations in 93% of the species pairs. Overall, our results suggest that the outcome of aggressive interactions among closely related species are usually consistent and asymmetric, and should thus favor ecological and evolutionary strategies specific to the position of a species within a dominance hierarchy.

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