Information depends on context: behavioural response to chemical signals depends on sex and size in crayfish contests

in Behaviour
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Securing information about oneself or an opponent can be crucial to update the likelihood of winning a contest and the relative costs of continuing or escalating. This information can subsequently reduce costly errors. However, information encoded in signals exchanged by opponents can differ based on context. We sought to unravel these differences by pairing male and female crayfish (Orconectes rusticus) under varying sex and size conditions. A pre-optimized technique was used to visualize a well-studied contest signal in crayfish (i.e., urine). Behavioural responses were quantified prior to and after the release of that signal. There was a characteristic de-escalation of behavioural intensity after an opponent released urine. However, behavioural changes after the release event were dependent on the sex and the relative size of the opponents. Urine also significantly altered both sender and receiver behaviour, but lack of behavioural differences suggests urine plays a role in both opponent and auto-communication.

Information depends on context: behavioural response to chemical signals depends on sex and size in crayfish contests

in Behaviour



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    Schematic of fight arena set up. The drawing on the left shows the view into the test arena from the side-view camera. The drawing on the right shows the set up from the side, rotated 90 degrees. Black lights were placed around the top of the structure to illuminate fluorescein release. This figure is published in colour in the online edition of this journal, which can be accessed via

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    Behavioural changes pre and post urine release. Release plots demonstrate qualitative changes in behavioural intensity over time in relation to a urine release event. 2A shows changes in behaviour at each second averaged across all release events (N=78). 2B shows differences in behavioural changes between different sex conditions (male–male (N=21), female–female (N=24), male–female (N=33)). 2C shows differences in behavioural changes between size matched (N=42) and size different (N=36) conditions. The red dashed line at time point 0 denotes the release event on all graphs.

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    Fixed Effects Interactive Effects on Non-escalated Contact Phase. Bar plot exhibits significant interactive effect of all three fixed variables on non-escalated contact phase (χ2=5.82, df = 2, p=0.05). Female same sex contests showed little to no change in non-escalated contact behaviours post-release, regardless of size treatment. Males showed a trend towards increased proportion of non-escalated contact behaviours post-release for both size matched and size different contests. Changes for these behaviours post-release in mixed sex contests were dependent on the size treatment.

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    R code used for data analysis. Linear mixed models (LMM) followed by analysis of deviance tables using Type II Wald Chi Square tests were used to determine the main effects of opponent sex and size on behaviour pre- and post-urine release in the lme4 package (Bates et al., 2015). Models were constructed using sex treatment (male only, female only, or mixed sex dyads), size treatment (size matched or size different dyads) and time (pre- or post-release) as fixed effects and trial number and release number as nested random effects. Differences of least squares means (‘difflsmeans’) from the lmerTest package (Kuznetsova et al., 2016) in R was used as a post hoc test to discern significant differences within significant main effects detected by the ANOVAs.


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