MEPS 336:267-274 (2007) - doi:10.3354/meps336267
Femalefemale aggression: structure of interaction and outcome in loggerhead sea turtles
Gail Schofield1,2,*, Kostas A. Katselidis1,3, John D. Pantis4, Panayotis Dimopoulos1, Graeme C. Hays2
ABSTRACT: Aggressive behaviour between females of the same species is not widely documented, particularly in marine vertebrates. During a 3 yr in-water survey at the temperate loggerhead sea turtle Caretta caretta breeding area of Zakynthos, Greece, femalefemale interactions comprised 4% of all female loggerhead sighting events (n = 60 out of 1449 events). Malefemale interactions comprised an additional 4% of sighting events, while 92% were of solitary females. The structure of interactions was analysed for 58 of these sighting events, each lasting an average of 3.4 min (SD ± 1) and comprising a total of 3.1 h observation time. We found that interactions involved ritualized escalation in behaviour from passive threat displays (e.g. headtail circling) to aggressive combat (e.g. sparring). We suggest that circling individuals evaluate opponent size, sparring individuals test opponent strength, and that the positioning of the prehensile tail signals motivational intent to either escalate or abort. The presence of intruder females triggered a passive response in 100% of events involving basking and swimming turtles (n = 19); although residents resting on the seabed only responded on 69% of occasions (n = 27), their response was almost 4 times more likely to escalate to one of aggression. Our results suggest that certain sites may be preferentially sought after and defended by sea turtles.
KEY WORDS: Caretta caretta · Sequential assessment · Evolutionary stable strategy · Territory · Marine · Vertebrate · Reptile
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