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Fighting for shells: how private information about resource value changes hermit crab pre-fight displays and escalated fight behaviour

By Gareth Arnott and Robert W Elwood


Pre-fight displays typically provide honest, but sometimes dishonest, information about resource holding potential and may be influenced by assessment of resource value and hence motivation to acquire the resource. These assessments of potential costs and benefits are also predicted to influence escalated fight behaviour. This is examined in shell exchange contests of hermit crabs in which we establish an information asymmetry about a particularly poor quality shell. The poor shell was created by gluing sand to the interior whereas control shells lacked sand and the low value of the poor shell could not be accurately assessed by the opponent. Crabs in the poor shell showed changes in the use of pre-fight displays, apparently to increase the chances of swapping shells. When the fights escalated, crabs in poor shells fought harder if they took the role of attacker but gave up quickly if in the defender role. These tactics appear to be adaptive but do not result in a major shift in the roles taken or outcome. We thus link resource assessment with pre-fight displays, the roles taken, tactics used during escalation and the outcome of these contests

Topics: Research Article
Publisher: The Royal Society
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Provided by: PubMed Central
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