June 28, 2009
The Faster They Come
How social status is negotiated among fishes
Being the neighborhood bully has its obvious advantages, but it becomes useless if your authority is continuously being challenged. In many animal species, however, stable hierarchies are routinely formed in which some individuals seem to slip naturally into their dominant role whereas others resign themselves to play the part of lowly subordinates. But why do the latter embrace this fate so readily instead of putting up a fight? A research team from the University of Sydney is trying to find the answer to this question by studying the interactions between male mosquitofish to see if their behavioral strategy can be traced down to their physical skills.
The scientists are currently trying to better characterize the physiological differences between the two groups to find out whether they are hereditary or acquired. They are also planning to address this question by conducting breeding studies designed to distinguish between underlying genetic differences in locomotor performance and plastic changes occurring during the lifetime of the individual as a result of its social status. Ultimately, their aim is to determine if relative position within the stable hierarchy is largely influenced by their inherited genes, or if each generation has to work it out all over again.
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