Coping with stress: personality, life history and social dominance in swordtail fishes, Xiphophorus sp.
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Competition for resources plays an important role in natural selection, creating winners and losers. Winners become socially dominant, obtain resources and so increase their fitness at the expense of losers. Provided they are heritable, phenotypic traits promoting competitive success will be inherited by subsequent generations. Thus, while resource dependent traits (e.g. growth) that rely on competitive outcomes are widely recognised as being under strong selection, this is also likely to be the case for those traits that determine competitive ability and social dominance. In addition, competition is expected to be an important source of stress, for example, harassment of subordinates by dominant individuals. Consequently individual fitness may depend not only on the ability to win resources, but also on the ability to cope with stress. This thesis proposes that social dominance is not just a simple consequence of body size or weaponry, but rather that the interplay between growth, repeatable behavioural characteristics (i.e. personality), and the ability to cope with social and environmental stressors are equally important factors. Thus the dynamic of dominance arises, a model that highlights the expectation of complex relationships between traits causal and consequent to social dominance. Here, empirical studies of Xiphophorus sp. are used to test each element in the model. First the concept of individual personality is explored, asking to what extent it is really stable over long periods of time (equivalent to lifespans). Next, the links between behaviour, physiological stress and contest outcome are considered and, using a repeated measures approach, the hypothesis that individuals differ in stress coping style is evaluated. Finally, using a quantitative genetic approach the additive genetic variance-covariance matrix (G) is estimated between behavioural and life history traits under experimentally manipulated levels of competition. In this way the contribution of genetic and environmental effects to the patterns of trait (co)variation that make up the dynamic of dominance is assessed.