Introduction: Individual recognition and winner/loser effects both play important roles in animal contests, but how their influences are integrated to affect an individual's contest decisions in combination remains unclear. Individual recognition provides an animal with relatively precise information about its ability to defeat conspecifics that it has fought previously. Winner/loser effects, conversely, rely on sampling information about how an animal's ability to win compares with those of others in the population. The less precise information causing winner/loser effects should therefore be more useful to an individual facing an unfamiliar opponent. In this study, we used Kryptolebias marmoratus, a hermaphroditic mangrove killifish, to test whether winner/loser effects do depend on opponent familiarity. In addition, as previous studies have shown that subordinates that behave aggressively sometimes suffer post-retreat retaliation from contest winners, we also explored this aspect of contest interaction in K. marmoratus. Results: In the early stages of a contest, subordinates facing an unfamiliar dominant were more likely to signal their aggressiveness with either gill displays or attacks rather than retreating immediately. A winning experience then increased the likelihood that the most aggressive behavioral pattern the subordinates exhibited would be attacks rather than gill displays, irrespective of their opponents' familiarity. Dominants that received a losing experience and faced an unfamiliar opponent were less likely than others to launch attacks directly. And subordinates that challenged dominants with more aggressive tactics but still lost received more post-retreat attacks from their dominant opponents. Conclusions: Subordinates' contest decisions were influenced by both their contest experience and the familiarity of their opponents, but these influences appeared at different stages of a contest and did not interact significantly with each other. The influence of a losing experience on dominants' contest decisions, however, did depend on their subordinate opponents' familiarity. Subordinates and dominants thus appeared to integrate information from the familiarity of their opponents and the outcome of previous contests differently, which warrants further investigation. The higher costs that dominants imposed on subordinates that behaved more aggressively toward them may have been to deter them from either fighting back or challenging them in the future.
ASJC Scopus subject areas