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Wins and losses in intergroup conflicts reflect energy balance in red-tailed monkeys.

Abstract

The energetic costs and benefits of intergroup conflicts over feeding sites are widely hypothesized to be significant, but rarely quantified. In this study, we use short-term measures of energy gain and expenditure to test whether winning an intergroup encounter is associated with greater benefits, and losing with greater costs. We also test an alternative perspective, where groups fight for access to large food sources that are neither depletable nor consistently monopolizable: in this case, a group that has already fed on the resource and is willing to leave first (the loser) is supplanted by a newly arrived group (the winner). We evaluate energy balance and travel distance during and after encounters for six groups of red-tailed monkeys in Kibale National Park, Uganda. We find that winning groups experience substantial energetic benefits, but do so to recoup from earlier deficits. Losing groups, contrary to predictions, experience minimal energetic costs. Winners and losers are predictable based upon their use of the contested resource immediately before the encounter. The short-term payoffs associated with these stressful conflicts compensate for any associated costs and support the perception that between-group contests are an important feature of social life for species that engage in non-lethal conflicts. This article is part of the theme issue 'Intergroup conflict across taxa'.

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