Third-party assessment of contestants during fallow deer fights increases with resource abundance and dominance rank

Domhnall Jennings*, Bawan Amin, Martin Gammell

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Downloads (Pure)


The decision to engage in escalated fighting involves an interplay between the individual’s estimate of the value of the resource under dispute, and the ability of the combatants to invest sufficient time and energy in the contest. Although fallow deer (Dama dama) contests usually take place between pairs of individuals, they are sometimes terminated by the intervention of dominant third-party individuals. Theory argues that these interventions prevent subordinates from gaining a competitive boost via a winner-effect; thus, interveners benefit by removing this threat to their status. Prior to intervention, third-party individuals often approach and closely follow the competing dyad before either abandoning their interest in the contest, or physically targeting one of the contestants. This study investigates the possibility that third-party following is an assessment process whereby individuals monitor the quality of fighting rivals during the annual rut. We tested three hypotheses: (i) that third-party followers are socially dominant individuals, that (ii) follow contests in order to assess the current quality of high-ranking rivals (iii) when resource abundance (i.e. the number of oestrus females) is high. Our results show that socially dominant individuals are most likely to follow contests; however, contrary to expectation, third-party males tended to follow dyads consisting of low-ranking rivals. We also show that as resource abundance increased in the population there was an increased tendency for males to follow contests, and a reduction in the probability of engaging in a third-party intervention of the contest. As expected by theory, dominance and resource abundance were important correlates of third-party following. Our results support the idea that socially dominant males monitor subordinate males who possess sufficient resources to expend in fighting, and who thus may be a threat to their status.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)81-89
Number of pages9
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Early online date22 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021


  • assessment
  • fighting
  • resource abundance
  • resource holding potential
  • third-party individual

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Third-party assessment of contestants during fallow deer fights increases with resource abundance and dominance rank'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this