Animal Contests

Resources are limited and when disputes arise over resources like food, mates and territories, animals engage in contest behavior to determine who gets access to the resource. We are interested in understanding why animals often use signals instead of physical fighting to determine the outcome of contests. We also seek to understand how individuals assess their status during the contest: do they compare their own quality to that of their opponent, or do they engage in a simpler strategy in which they simply hold out until a certain threshold without evaluating their opponent’s quality? What strategies do individuals use to compete in contests, and what are the costs and benefits of these strategies in terms of energetic cost and potential access to mates?

Our goal is to gain a greater understanding of how animals compete with one another in a complex social environment. Frog contests are excellent study systems because frogs produce distinctive “aggressive calls” during contests, which can be easily observed and manipulated. Contests determine access to critical resources such as food and mates, and therefore have a major impact on fitness. Understanding the mechanisms behind contest strategies and success therefore gives important insights into selection acting on animal behaviors.

An important goal for our future research is to understand the role of cognition in animal contests. Cognition, the processes by which animals receive, process and utilize information from the environment, is likely to be important in animal contests, as outlined in a recent review. We still know very little about cognition in wild animals, and animal contests provide an excellent opportunity for its study because contests involve assessment, recognition and memory, all of which are important cognitive mechanisms.


Relevant publications:

M.S. Reichert and J.L. Quinn. 2017. Cognition in contests: mechanisms, ecology and evolution. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 32: 773-785

M.A. Bee, M.S. Reichert, and J. Tumulty. 2016. Assessment and recognition of competitive rivals in anurans. Advances in the Study of Behavior 48: 161-249

M.S. Reichert. 2014. Playback tests and studies of animal contest dynamics: concepts and an example in the gray treefrog. Behavioral Ecology 25: 591-603

M.S. Reichert and H.C. Gerhardt. 2014. Behavioral strategies and signaling in interspecific aggressive interactions in gray treefrogs. Behavioral Ecology 25: 520-530

M.S. Reichert and H.C. Gerhardt. 2013. Gray tree frogs, Hyla versicolor, give lower-frequency aggressive calls in more escalated contests. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 67: 795-804

M.L. Dyson, M.S. Reichert, and T.R. Halliday. 2013. Contests in amphibians. In: Animal Contests. ed., I.C.W. Hardy and M. Briffa, pp. 228-257. Cambridge University Press

M.S. Reichert and H.C. Gerhardt. 2011. The role of body size on the outcome, escalation and duration of contests in the grey treefrog, Hyla versicolor 82: 1357-1366

M.S. Reichert. 2011. Aggressive calls improve leading callers’ attractiveness in the treefrog Dendropsophus ebraccatus. Behavioral Ecology 22: 951-959