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Creation of a dominance hierarchy within a population of animals typically involves a period of agonistic activity in which winning and losing decide relative positions in the hierarchy. Among crayfish, fighting between size-matched animals leads to an abrupt change of behavior as the new subordinate retreats and escapes from the attacks and approaches of the dominant (Issa et al., 1999). We used high-speed videography and electrical recordings of aquarium field potentials to monitor the release of aggressive and defensive behavior, including the activation of neural circuits for four different tail-flip behaviors. We found that the sequence of tail-flip circuit excitation traced the development of their dominance hierarchy. Offensive tail flipping, attacks, and approaches by both animals were followed by a sharp rise in the frequency of nongiant and medial giant escape tail flips and a fall in the frequency of offensive tail flips of the new subordinate. These changes suggest that sudden, coordinated changes in the excitability of a set of neural circuits in one animal produce the changes in behavior that mark its transition to subordinate status.


This article was originally published in the Journal of Neuroscience and is available here. Copyright © 2001 Society for Neuroscience.

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