Animals frequently compete for resources (food, shelter, etc.) against conspecifics as well as against individuals of other species; larger animals typically are dominant over smaller ones. Although body size thus correlates with social dominance in interspecific as well as intraspecific encounters, the causal connection remains unclear. That is, one species might dominate another not simply because of larger size, but some other species-specific attribute. In such a case, we expect an animal of the subordinate taxon to be subservient to all members of the 'dominant' species, even those too small to pose a physical threat. This scenario can be tested by staging encounters over resource use in the laboratory. We conducted such trials using a guild of sympatric montane lizards (Reptilia: Scincidae), that compete for shelter sites (rock crevices), with larger species routinely displacing smaller taxa. Remarkably, neonates of larger species effectively deterred adults of smaller species from entering occupied retreat sites - even when the neonates were much smaller than the adults they displaced. Thus, the outcomes of interspecific interactions in this system depend upon the species of the participants, not their relative body sizes. Measurements of bite force confirm that the neonates of the most dominant species posed little physical threat to heterospecific adults, so that species-specific variation in fighting ability cannot explain this puzzling result. However, juveniles often share shelter sites with conspecific adults, so that avoidance of neonates may reduce the risk of attack by an unseen adult resident.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics