By Kirstine I. O'Connor, Neil B. Metcalfe, Alan C. Taylor
Animal Behaviour, Volume 59, Issue 6, June 2000, Pages 1095-1101, ISSN 0003-3472, DOI: 10.1006/anbe.2000.1401.

Escalated contests between animals are potentially costly because of increased energy expenditure and risk of predation or injury. Hence we would expect selection to favour any mechanism that avoids unnecessary prolonged fighting. One such means of avoiding escalated fights could be the use of information gained through individual recognition. Previous work has shown that a darkening of the body colour is closely associated with submission in contests between juvenile Atlantic salmon,Salmo salar , and it has been hypothesized that this may act as a visual signal to the opponent. We tested the hypothesis that body darkening is used to reduce the cost of contests between familiar fish such that losers darken more quickly when faced with familiar than unfamiliar opponents. In contests between unfamiliar fish, submissive darkening occurred after more escalated contests in which the loser incurred more aggression, whereas the opposite occurred when familiar fish were in conflict. In addition familiar fish either submitted quickly or engaged in protracted conflicts in which neither fish signalled submission, whereas in unfamiliar fish contests were of intermediate duration regardless of whether either fish darkened. We suggest that body darkening is used by familiar fish to signal submission to familiar dominants in order to avert a costly escalated fight, but familiarity can lead to escalation without submission if perceived competitive asymmetries are finely balanced.

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