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Effects of familiarity and population density on competitive interactions and growth: an experimental study on a territorial salmonid fish

Journal article
Authors Libor Zavorka
Joacim Näslund
David Aldvén
Johan Höjesjö
Jörgen I Johnsson
Published in Ethology
Volume 121
Issue 12
Pages 1202-2211
ISSN 0179-1613
Publication year 2015
Published at Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences
Pages 1202-2211
Language en
Keywords social structure, competition, personality, trout
Subject categories Freshwater ecology, Ethology and behavioural ecology, Behavioral Sciences Biology


The deleterious effect of competition for space and food in animals increases with increasing population density. In contrast, familiarity towards conspecifics can relax the intensity of interference competition. Here, we hypothesized that familiarity towards conspecifics mitigates the effect of density-dependent growth and dispersal behaviour in territorial animals. To test this, wild-captured juvenile brown trout were subjected to two consecutive laboratory experiments. First, growth and fin erosion were measured for 40 d in a 2 × 2 factorial design manipulating density and familiarity. The density was manipulated via size of experimental tanks, while per capita food abundance and fish number was constant. All fish were subsequently exposed to an emergence test, giving them the option to leave their group and disperse to a novel unoccupied environment. The results show that familiarity increases growth and decreases the level of fin erosion (i.e. proxy of intensity of aggressive interactions). We found no significant effect of population density on growth rate. However, there was a tendency towards higher fin erosion in fish kept under high density. The growth of individuals was also affected by their size rank within the group, with the largest individuals in each group growing disproportionally faster than the rest of the group, probably due to their high social rank. However, the second and third fish in the size rank did not grow significantly faster and tended to suffer higher mortality than the rest of the group. During the emergence test, the largest individuals in the familiar groups left the shelter either as the first (six of 12 groups) or last (five of 12 groups) individual in the group, while no such pattern was observed in unfamiliar groups. Our results suggest that individuals in familiar groups receive less aggression and stress (i.e. fin damage) and grow faster than fish in unfamiliar groups. The mechanisms indicated in this laboratory study may be especially important in highly fecund organisms like fish which undergo density-dependent bottlenecks during early life.

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