Dearborn, D., and R. H. Wiley.   1993.   Prior residence has a gradual influence on dominance in white-throated sparrows.   Animal Behaviour 46:   39-46.


To investigate the influence of prior residence on dominance in captive white-throated sparrows, Zonotrichia albicollis, we studied 28 groups of six birds each in outdoor aviaries during winter. After periods of prior residence ranging from 2 to 45 days, the three highest-ranking birds in each of two aviaries were placed together in one of the aviaries and the three lowest-ranking birds from each aviary were placed together in the other aviary.

The influence of prior residence increased gradually over at least 2 weeks to an asymptote at which individuals with the advantage of prior residence dominated newcomers in approximately 90% of cases.

In the initial groupings of unfamiliar birds, when only intrinsic features of individuals influenced dominance, only size as indicated by wing length correlated with dominance. The gradual increase in dominance of residents over newcomers suggests that prior residence is not used for conventional settlement of disputes.

This influence of prior residence on dominance provides a mechanism for the tendency of white-throated sparrows in the field to dominate more opponents in the centres of their ranges than at the edges.


Because dominance relationships between strangers in initial groupings in captivity develop in the absence of the natural contexts for these interactions, these studies reveal only intrinsic mechanisms of dominance and thus do not necessarily reveal the mechanisms by which interactions are settled in natural situations. Experiments on captive individuals can, however, clarify the causality of correlations observed in the field. The present study has confirmed a possible mechanism for the correlation between location and dominance in a free-living population of white-throated sparrows: an individual's residence in a location gradually increases its ability to win contests with newcomers there.

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