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Defensive structures influence fighting outcomes

Cite this dataset

Emberts, Zachary; Wiens, John (2020). Defensive structures influence fighting outcomes [Dataset]. Dryad.


  1. In many animal species, individuals engage in fights with conspecifics over access to limited resources (e.g. mates, food, or shelter). Most theory about these intraspecific fights assumes that damage has an important role in determining the contest winner. Thus, defensive structures that reduce the amount of damage an individual accrues during intraspecific competition should provide a fighting advantage. 
  2. Examples of such damage-reducing structures include the dermal shields of goats, the dorsal osteoderms of crocodiles, and the armored telsons of mantis shrimps. Although numerous studies have identified these defensive structures, no study has investigated whether they influence the outcomes of intraspecific fights.  
  3. Here, we investigated whether inhibiting damage by enhancing an individual’s armor influenced fighting behavior and success in the giant mesquite bug, Thasus neocalifornicus (Insecta: Hemiptera: Coreidae)
  4. We found that experimentally manipulated individuals (i.e. those provided with additional armor) were 1.6 times more likely to win a fight when compared to the control. These results demonstrate that damage, and damage-reducing structures, can influence fighting success.
  5. The implications of these results are twofold. First, our results experimentally support a fundamental assumption of most theoretical fighting models: that damage is a fighting cost that can influence contest outcomes. Second, these results highlight the importance of an individual’s defensive capacity, and why defense should not be ignored.  


National Science Foundation, Award: DBI-1907051