Population density, resource patterning, and territoriality in the Everglades pygmy sunfish

Daniel I. Rubenstein

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63 Scopus citations


The means by which pygmy sunfish compete for food are influenced by the density of the population and the dispersion of the prey as well as by the sex and dominance status of the individual. At all densities when the prey were predictably located in a central clump, males established territories. When prey were dispersed randomly in both the high and low density population, males abandoned territorial behaviour and, like females, swam freely about the aquaria. Only in the intermediate density populations did the males maintain territories and continue to defend resources. Development of a simple cost-benefit model shows that male territorial behaviour is governed to a large extent by economic considerations. Despite these overall patterns, differences in competitive strategies were observed within populations. Dominant individuals tended to possess territories nearest the central patch of prey, and use the most intense and physiologically exhausting displays. Only under the most stressful conditions did they acquire significantly more food than subordinates, and even then these benefits were not translated into increased growth, largely because dominant fish engaged in disproportionately more energy-consuming contests.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)155-172
Number of pages18
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1981

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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