Spoiling for a fight

Models of animal aggression

source: Jon Copley
New Scientist July 28 2001 p16

Cambridge University researcher, Rufus Johnstone, has studied the impact of eavesdroppers on levels of aggression in animal populations. Eavesdroppers avoid fighting until they have seen other animals fight, and have observed the outcome, and they are then more likely to fight the combatant they have seen lose. Johnstone has added to a model developed by University of Sussex researcher, John Maynard Smith. He classed animals as hawks, with a tendency to use violence, and doves, with a tendency to back down if confronted. Eavesdroppers play hawk or dove according to their observations. They can initially be successful, but if there are many eavesdroppers, they are more likely to meet each other. Two eavesdroppers that previously observed each other losing conflicts may take on a hawk role, and their conflict can escalate, according to Johnstone. He sees aggression levels as higher in animals populations with eavesdroppers than in populations with just hawks and doves that do not eavesdrop.