CZAAWE Resource Article

The Effects of Social Experience on Aggressive Behavior in the Green Anole Lizard (Anolis carolinensis)
Publication Type 
Journal Article
Year of publication 
To understand how context-specific aggression emerges from past experience, we examined how consecutive aggressive encounters influence aggressive behavior and stress responses of male green anole lizards (Anolis carolinensis). Animals were shown a video clip featuring an aggressively displaying conspecific male, which provoked aggressive responding, while control animals viewed a neutral video. After 5 d of interaction with the videos, both the subject and control groups were presented with a live conspecific. As a non-invasive assay of stress responses, we measured changes in body color and eyespot darkness, two features known to be strongly correlated with titers of stress hormones. Our results demonstrate that experience increased aggression in male anoles, but that increases in aggression to a repeated stimulus were transient. Tests with a novel conspecific indicate that the experienced animals remained aggressive when presented with novel stimuli. Although there were differences in the morphological indicators of the stress response between experimental and control groups during video presentations, there were no differences when presented with novel conspecifics. These data indicate that experience-dependent differences were not mediated by differences in the ‘stressfulness’ of aggressive interaction, as thought to be the case for animals in chronic subordinate/dominant dyads. We suggest that habituation and reinforcement interact to promote aggressive responding and to restrict it to novel individuals. Such context specificity is a hallmark of natural patterns of aggression in territorial species.