Defensive structures influence fighting outcomes

Zachary Emberts, John J. Wiens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


In many animal species, individuals engage in fights with conspecifics over access to limited resources (e.g. mates, food, or shelter). Most theory about these intraspecific fights assumes that damage has an important role in determining the contest winner. Thus, defensive structures that reduce the amount of damage an individual accrues during intraspecific competition should provide a fighting advantage. Examples of such damage-reducing structures include the dermal shields of goats, the dorsal osteoderms of crocodiles, and the armoured telsons of mantis shrimps. Although numerous studies have identified these defensive structures, no study has investigated whether they influence the outcomes of intraspecific fights. Here we investigated whether inhibiting damage by enhancing an individual's armour influenced fighting behaviour and success in the giant mesquite bug, Thasus neocalifornicus (Insecta: Hemiptera: Coreidae). We found that experimentally manipulated individuals (i.e. those provided with additional armour) were 1.6 times more likely to win a fight when compared to the control. These results demonstrate that damage, and damage-reducing structures, can influence fighting success. The implications of these results are twofold. First, our results experimentally support a fundamental assumption of most theoretical fighting models: that damage is a fighting cost that can influence contest outcomes. Second, these results highlight the importance of an individual's defensive capacity, and why defence should not be ignored. A free Plain Language Summary can be found within the Supporting Information of this article.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)696-704
Number of pages9
JournalFunctional Ecology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • armour
  • cumulative-assessment model
  • damage
  • defence
  • intraspecific competition
  • mutual-assessment model
  • sexually selected weapons

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


Dive into the research topics of 'Defensive structures influence fighting outcomes'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this