Mutual assessment via visual status signals in Polistes dominulus wasps.
ABSTRACT Many animals use signals to assess the fighting ability of rivals and reduce the cost of aggressive competition. However, little is known about how an individual's own quality influences their signal assessment decisions. Polistes dominulus wasps have visual signals of fighting ability that provide a good model for testing the dynamics of rival choice. We found that rival assessment behaviour was influenced by the advertised quality of the individual, their rivals, and the interaction between individual and rival quality. Individuals of high advertised quality were more likely to challenge rivals and individuals of low advertised quality were more likely to be challenged. However, when choosing among two rivals with different advertised quality, individuals did not simply choose the lower quality rival. Instead, they only preferred the lower quality rival when there was a small difference between their own advertised quality and that of their rivals. Individuals were not choosy when both rivals advertised relatively high or relatively low quality. Therefore, although P. dominulus facial patterns function as conventional signals of fighting ability that provide valuable information about their bearer's behavioural strategy, there is substantial variation in signal responses based on the relative intensity of the senders' and receivers' signals.
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ABSTRACT: Aggressive competition is an important aspect of social interactions, but conflict can be costly. Some animals are thought to minimize the costs of conflict by using conventional signals of agonistic ability (i.e. badges of status) to assess rivals. Although putative badges have been found in a range of taxa, little research has tested whether individuals use badges to assess potential rivals before they engage in aggressive contests. Here, choice trials were used to test how the variable black facial patterns in Polistes dominulus wasps are used during rival assessment. Focal wasps were given access to two patches of food, each guarded by a wasp whose facial pattern had been experimentally altered. Wasps chose food patches based on the facial pattern of the guard, preferring to challenge guards with facial patterns indicating a low level of quality, while avoiding guards with facial patterns indicating a high level of quality. Therefore, status badges play an important role during rival assessment; paper wasps use facial patterns alone to quickly assess the agonistic abilities of strangers.Biology letters 07/2008; 4(3):237-9. · 3.76 Impact Factor