Principles and mechanisms of intergroup contests: understanding social evolution

Award Period
Award Amount
Agency Name
Human Frontier Science Program Organization (Intl)
Award Number
LT 000460/ 2019-L
PI First Name
PI Last Name
Patrick Green
Area/s of Research
Ecology and Evolution

The evolution of animal sociality has been driven, in part, by the balance of cooperation and conflict. Extensive studies of dyadic (one-on-one) conflicts across taxa have revealed how opponents achieve safe resolution by assessing competitive ability. While conflicts between groups of social animals are equally important, little is known about how competing groups assess ability. Studying intergroup assessment can reveal principles that extend across taxa, influencing our understanding of the evolution of sociality. I will adapt the theoretical and experimental framework of dyadic assessment to test principles of intergroup assessment. I will first use a database of over 600 banded mongoose contests to test central components of conflict dynamics: how group composition predicts competitive success, how territory ownership confers an advantage, and if groups of similar ability have more dangerous contests. I will also experimentally test how banded mongooses use scent markings and collective “war cry” calls in intergroup assessment, including if and how “leaders” of conflicts differ from other group members. Finally, working in the extremely tractable wood ant system, I will use automated tracking and network analysis to test how individual-level behavioral variation influences overall group contest dynamics. This project integrates big data, behavioral ecology, and state-of-the-art individual tracking to reveal principles of intergroup assessment that extend across taxa and levels of social organization. The outcomes of this work can influence research in fields like animal contests, social evolution, and human psychology, among others.