Animals' contest performance is influenced by their recent contest experiences. This influence could either be exerted by individuals re-estimating their own fighting ability (self-assessment) or by their opponents responding to status-related cues (social-cue mechanism) or both. Individuals of Kryptolebias marmoratus, a hermaphroditic killifish, were given different contest experiences to examine how two opponents' prior experiences combined to determine their contest interaction and to test both of these mechanisms as potential causes of the observed experience effect. Our data showed that losers' decisions to retreat at different stages of a contest were influenced by their own but not by the winners' contest experience-a result consistent with self-assessment but not with the social-cue mechanism. An association between the fish initiating and winning contests thus probably arose because both were correlated with an individual's assessment of its fighting ability, but not because initiating contests made opponents more inclined to retreat.
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