Social dominance does not increase oxidative stress in a female dominance hierarchy of an African cichlid fish

Tyler R. Funnell, Robert J. Fialkowski, Peter D. Dijkstra

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


In many group living animal species, individuals use aggression to gain and maintain social dominance to secure access to ecological resources and potential mates. While social dominance has many fitness benefits, there are also potential costs associated with frequent agonistic interactions and status display. One potential cost of social dominance is oxidative stress, the imbalance of reactive oxygen species and antioxidant capacity. In the cichlid species Astatotilapia burtoni, dominant males are aggressive, hold a breeding territory, and have an activated reproductive system resulting in larger gonads. Subordinate males are submissive, school with females, and are nonreproductive. Females are submissive under natural conditions, but in a female-only group, a dominance hierarchy will form with dominant females taking on male-typical behaviours including aggression, territory defence, and increased androgen levels. However, in contrast to males, social dominance is not linked to increased activation of the reproductive system in females, allowing us to test whether social dominance alone exposes individuals to increased oxidative stress. We compared dominant and subordinate females in female-only groups in five markers of oxidative stress. Dominant females did not have higher levels of oxidative damage compared to same-sex subordinates. This result contrasted to the trend in males in which dominant males had higher oxidative damage than their subordinate counterparts. Our findings suggest that the oxidative cost of social dominance is limited and support the notion that previously reported associations between high rank and increased oxidative stress is most likely driven by increased investment in reproduction.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-25
Number of pages11
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2022


  • antioxidants
  • life history trade-offs
  • reactive oxygen species
  • reproduction
  • social hierarchy
  • territoriality


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