How does the environment affect fighting? The interaction between extrinsic fighting ability and resource value during contests.
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An individual's performance during a fight is influenced by a combination of their capacity and willingness to compete. While willingness to fight is known to be determined by both intrinsic and extrinsic drivers, an individual's capacity to fight is generally thought of as solely intrinsic, being driven by a host of physiological factors. However, evidence indicates that variation in fighting ability can also be generated through exposure to different environmental conditions. Environmental contributions to fighting ability may be particularly important for animals living in spatially and temporally heterogeneous habitats, in which fights can occur between rivals recently exposed to different environmental conditions. The rapidly changing environment experienced within intertidal zones, for example, means that seawater parameters, including dissolved oxygen content and temperature, can vary across small spatial and temporal scales. Here we investigate the relative importance of these extrinsic contributions to fighting ability and resource value on contest dynamics in the beadlet sea anemone Actinia equina We manipulate the extrinsic fighting ability of both opponents (through dissolved oxygen concentration prior to fights) and resource value (through seawater flow rate during the fight). Our results indicate that the extrinsic fighting ability of both opponents can interact with resource value to drive escalation patterns and that extrinsic drivers can be more important in determining contest dynamics than the intrinsic traits commonly studied. Our study highlights the need to combine data on intrinsic state and extrinsic conditions in order to gain a more holistic view of the factors driving contest behaviour.
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