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Inter-sexual contests in the hermit crab Pagurus bernhardus: females fight harder but males win more encounters

Mark Briffa and Dale Dallaway
Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Vol. 61, No. 11 (September 2007), pp. 1781-1787
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/27823563
Page Count: 7
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Inter-sexual contests in the hermit crab Pagurus bernhardus: females fight harder but males win more encounters
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Abstract

Contests often occur between members of the same sex when they compete for access to mates, but intersexual contests may occur over access to other essential resources such as food or shelter. Despite the possibility that such contests are common, most studies focus on male fighting, and very few have analysed fights between males and females. Because males and females differ physically and physiologically, fighting ability or resource-holding potential (RHP) may also be subject to inter-sexual variation. In this study, we investigate size-controlled inter-sexual contests over the ownership of empty gastropod shells in the hermit crab Pagurus bernhardus. During these fights, there are two roles, attacker and defender, and we use a fully orthogonal experimental design to compare the performance of males and females in each role, when fighting either a male or female opponent. Although females fight more intensely, male attackers have an advantage when compared to females playing the attacker role, as they are more likely to evict the defender from its shell and thus win the resource. Further, in the defender role, male defenders are subject to shorter attacks than female defenders. The differences in agonistic performance could not be attributed to differences in perceived resource value between the sexes or to differences in body or weapon size. There are clear differences in the agonistic behaviour of males and females, and this possibility should be incorporated into models of contest behaviour. In particular, evolutionarily stable strategies may be expected to vary with sex ratios.

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