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Franziska C Schädelin, Filipa Cunha-Saraiva, Celia Faltin, Eva Wagner, and Sigal Balshine (2022)

Territorial behaviour and conflict management in a semi-social cichlid fish, Neolamprologus caudopunctatus


Conflict solving strategies can prevent fights from escalating and reduce the costs of aggressive encounters. Having the capacity to efficiently assess an opponent’s fighting abilities before fully committing to a fight is a useful social skill. Here, we conducted two experiments to investigate how a colony living, cichlid species, Neolamprologus caudopunctatus, changes its aggressive behaviour when faced with familiar vs unfamiliar opponents. First, we staged size matched, same-sex, dyadic resource contests and found that fights were always of low-intensity with neither familiarity nor sex influencing how quickly the conflict ended. Second, we explored the dual defence of mated territorial pairs together defending their territory boundaries against other pairs, either familiar or unfamiliar ones, and discovered that fights between two pairs were more vigorous, and that unfamiliar neighbouring pairs were attacked significantly more often than familiar pairs. We also observed that dark bars sometimes appeared on the sides of contestant’s bodies, and that these bars were far more common in winners than in losers, suggesting that these might be visual signals of dominance. However, conflicts where contestants displayed bars were of longer duration than those without. Taken together, our results further advance our understanding of territoriality and conflict resolution strategies and set the stage for future studies focusing on how animals manage to co-exist in closely aggregated breeding territories and to form colonies.