Preservation of winter social dominance status in Brent Geese **Branta bernicla bernicla** within and across winters
Faculty of Sciences. Biology
Journal of ornithology. - Berlin, 1853 - 2003
, p. 737-744
University of Antwerp
Dominant and subordinate individuals in a group may benefit from the stability of the social dominance organisation, avoiding excessive waste of time and energy in aggressive interactions and reducing injury risks. Nevertheless, the likely evolutionary incentive for individuals to become, and furthermore to stay, dominant may destabilise such dominance hierarchies. In this context, the relative importance of fixed (e.g. sex, morphological size) and fluctuating (e.g. body condition, mating status, reproductive success, social unit size) traits influencing the establishment and preservation of dominance relationships could play a key role in group structure.We investigated the relative role of fixed and fluctuating traits on social status in Dark-bellied Brent Geese Branta bernicla bernicla which form large fairly unstable groups both within and across winters. We compared individual dominance scores of ringed Brent Geese during four consecutive winters. Brent Geese conserved their dominance score within a given winter irrespective of their age but were generally unable to conserve it across consecutive winters. As winter dominance scores correlated best with social unit size, dominance status thus appeared to be mostly a by-product of a fluctuating trait: breeding success in the previous summer. When we considered only adults that had the same social unit size during two consecutive winters, we observed a significant preservation of dominance scores. This result suggests that a fixed trait such as sex or morphological size may still play a role in setting dominance status.