[MARMAM] {Disarmed} New publication on recognition abilities and aggressive behaviour in grey seals

Kelly Robinson kjr33 at st-andrews.ac.uk
Tue Jun 23 01:40:37 PDT 2015

Dear MARMAM subscribers,

My co-authors and I are pleased to announce a new publication on the social
recognition abilities of grey seals and their aggressive behaviour towards
familiar and novel individuals:

Robinson, K.J., Twiss, S.D., Hazon, N., Moss, S., Lonergan, M. & Pomeroy,
P.P. (2015).
*Conspecific recognition and aggression reduction to familiars in newly
weaned, socially plastic mammals *
Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology
DOI: 10.1007/s00265-015-1952-7

Recognising conspecifics and behaving appropriately towards them is a
crucial ability for many species. Grey seals (*Halichoerus grypus*) show
varying capabilities in this regard: mother-pup recognition has been
demonstrated in some geographical populations but is absent in others, yet
there is evidence that individuals aggregate with prior associates. The
recognition capabilities of newly weaned grey seal pups were investigated
using class recognition trials within the habituation/dishabituation
paradigm. Trials took place in pens, using pairs of individuals that either
had previously cohabited (familiar) or that had never met before
(stranger). Frequencies of olfactory and visual investigative behaviours
(‘checks’) and aggressive interactions were recorded during trials.
Familiar individuals recognised each other: paired strangers showed
significantly more checks and aggressive interactions than were seen in
trials pairing familiars. Oxytocin concentrations in post-trial plasma
samples were analysed to investigate the underlying physiology modulating
recognition abilities; however, no significant differences were detected
between familiar or stranger trials. This study demonstrates that at a
young age, grey seals can recognise individuals they have previously
encountered. Recognition abilities in this species have adaptive value by
allowing the reduction of costly aggressive interactions between familiar
conspecifics, which is often cited as the first step towards the evolution
of sociality in a species. This study is the first with wild subjects to
find conspecific recognition abilities in a pinniped species outside of
reproductive contexts. It demonstrates that even largely solitary species
can be capable of recognition and pro-social behaviours that benefit them
during times when they must aggregate.

The article can be found at:

The article is open access; so anyone who is interested in the manuscript
should be able to download a pdf of it. However if you have any problems
getting a copy please email kjr33 at st-andrews.ac.uk.

Kind regards,

Kelly Robinson

Sea Mammal Research Unit
University of St Andrews
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