Context-dependent linear dominance hierarchies in social groups of European badgers, Meles meles
Hewitt SE., Macdonald DW., Dugdale HL.
A social hierarchy is generally assumed to exist in those mammalian societies in which the costs and benefits of group living are distributed unevenly among group members. We analysed infrared closed-circuit television footage, collected over 3 years in Wytham Woods, Oxfordshire, to test whether social groups of European badgers have dominance hierarchies. Analysis of directed aggression between dyads revealed linear dominance hierarchies in three social-group-years, but patterns within social groups were not consistent across years. Dominance hierarchies were significantly steeper than random in five out of six social-group-years. In those social-group-years where a linear hierarchy was determined, there was an effect of sex on dominance rank, with females gaining significantly higher rank than males in two social-group-years. Overall, rank was not related to age, nor did it appear to affect the likelihood of an individual being wounded, or an individual's breeding status. The latter resulted from nonorthogonality between sex and breeding status, as there were only two breeding males. Overall, hierarchies were primarily dominated by breeding females, and may occur when breeding competition arises. Relatedness, unreciprocated allogrooming and sequential allomarking were not consistently related to levels of directed aggression across social-group-years. We suggest that dominance structures within European badger groups may be context dependent, with future study required to complete our understanding of where, and when, they arise. © 2008 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour.