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Sep 04, 2015
Proceedings. Biological Sciences / The Royal Society
Linear dominance hierarchies, which are common in social animals, can profoundly influence access to limited resources, reproductive opportunities and health. In spite of their importance, the mechanisms that govern the dynamics of such hierarchies remain unclear. Two hypotheses explain how linear hierarchies might emerge and change over time. The 'prior attributes hypothesis' posits that individual differences in fighting ability directly determine dominance ranks. By contrast, the 'social dynamics hypothesis' posits that dominance ranks emerge from social self-organization dynamics such as winner and loser effects. While the prior attributes hypothesis is well supported in the literature, current support for the social dynamics hypothesis is limited to experimental studies that artificially eliminate or minimize individual differences in fighting abilities. Here, we present the first evidence supporting the social dynamics hypothesis in a wild population. Specifically, we test for winner and loser effects on male hierarchy dynamics in wild baboons, using a novel statistical approach based on the Elo rating method for cardinal rank assignment, which enables the detection of winner and loser effects in uncontrolled group settings. Our results demonstrate (i) the presence of winner and loser effects, and (ii) that individual susceptibility to such effects may have a genetic basis. Taken together, our results show that both social self-organization dynamics and prior attributes can combine to influence hierarchy dynamics even when agonistic interactions are strongly influenced by differences in individual attributes. We hypothesize that, despite variation in individual attributes, winner and loser effects exist (i) because these effects could be particularly beneficial when fighting abilities in other group members change over time, and (ii) because the coevolution of prior attributes and winner and loser effects maintains a balance of both effects. © 2015 The Author(s).

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