Artificial mass loading disrupts stable social order in pigeon dominance hierarchies

Steve Portugal, Jim Usherwood, Craig White, Daniel Sankey, Alan M. Wilson

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Dominance hierarchies confer benefits to group members by decreasing the incidences of physical conflict, but may result in certain lower-ranked individuals consistently missing out on access to resources. Here, we report a linear dominance hierarchy remaining stable over time in a closed population of birds. We show that this stability can be disrupted, however, by the artificial mass-loading of birds that typically comprise the bottom 50% of the hierarchy. Mass loading causes these low-ranked birds to immediately become more aggressive and rise-up the dominance hierarchy, however, this effect was only evident in males and was absent in females. Removal of the artificial mass causes the hierarchy to return to its previous structure. This interruption of a stable hierarchy implies a strong direct link between body mass and social behaviour, and suggests that an individual’s personality can be altered by the artificial manipulation of body mass.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages6
JournalBiology Letters
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 5 Aug 2020

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