Recent wins and losses can inform individuals about their relative fighting abilities and modify their subsequent contest decisions. Using a mangrove rivulus, Kryptolebias marmoratus, we tested the hypothesis that visual and limited physical interactions can also convey information and modify subsequent contest decisions. Individuals were exposed to a stronger or weaker conspecific through a glass or a mesh partition before a contest with a size-matched naïve opponent. Individuals were expected to (a) assess themselves to have worse/better fighting ability and behave less/more aggressively after having interacted with a stronger/weaker conspecific and (b) display different degrees of behavioural modifications for the two partition treatments (mesh-partition > glass-partition). The results showed that interactions with a stronger/weaker conspecific through a glass partition did not have a strong effect on the fish's subsequent contest behaviour. Restricted physical interaction with a stronger/weaker conspecific through a mesh partition, however, had an unexpected effect, causing individuals to behave more/less aggressively (matching the behaviour of the conspecifics) and/or win more/fewer subsequent contests. These results indicate that contest resolution is important for the fish to exhibit the loser–winner effects (i.e. behaving less/more aggressively after having lost/won against a stronger/weaker conspecific) detected in previous studies of the fish. We propose and discuss the possibility that the “behavioural matching” of the mesh-partition treatment results from unresolved physical interactions with a stronger/weaker conspecific causing the individuals to either anticipate stronger/weaker opponents in subsequent competitions or assess themselves to be an equally good/bad fighter as the conspecific. The results of previous studies and the present study of the fish show that pre-exposing an individual to the same type of conspecifics could elicit diverse, sometimes opposite, behavioural responses depending on how the individual is permitted to interact with the conspecific.
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