Measuring and testing the steepness of dominance hierarchies

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
H. Devries, J. Stevens, H. Vervaecke
Animal Behaviour
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In the analysis of social dominance in groups of animals, linearity has been used by many researchers as the main structural characteristic of a dominance hierarchy. In this paper we propose, alongside linearity, a quantitative measure for another property of a dominance hierarchy, namely its steepness. Steepness of a hierarchy is defined here as the absolute slope of the straight line fitted to the normalized David’s scores (calculated on the basis of a dyadic dominance index corrected for chance) plotted against the subjects’ ranks. This correction for chance is an improvement of an earlier proposal by de Vries (appendix 2 in de Vries, Animal Behaviour, 1998, 55, 827–843). In addition, we present a randomization procedure for determining the statistical significance of a hierarchy’s steepness, which can be used to test the observed steepness against the steepness expected under the null hypothesis of random win chances for all pairs of individuals. Whereas linearity depends on the number of established binary dominance relationships and the degree of transitivity in these relationships, steepness measures the degree to which individuals differ from each other in winning dominance encounters. Linearity and steepness are complementary measures to characterize a dominance hierarchy.


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