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Assessment during Intergroup Contests

HighlightsThe dyadic assessment framework – studying the strategies animals use to gather information during one-on-one contests, and how this assessment drives contest behaviors and outcomes – can be fruitfully adapted to intergroup contests: those between stable social-living groups.Heterogeneity among group members and how groups cohere to make effective decisions are unique features of social living that add complexity to intergroup contest assessment.Understanding intergroup contest assessment can inform research in social evolution and ecology, for example, by revealing selective pressures on group size evolution and drivers of population dynamics.Research on how competitors assess (i.e., gather information on) fighting ability and contested resources, as well as how assessment impacts on contest processes and outcomes, has been fundamental to the field of dyadic (one-on-one) contests. Despite recent growth in studies of contests between social-living groups, there is limited understanding of assessment during these intergroup contests. We adapt current knowledge of dyadic contest assessment to the intergroup case, describing what traits of groups, group members, and resources are assessed, and how assessment is manifested in contest processes (e.g., behaviors) and outcomes. This synthesis helps to explain the role of individual heterogeneity in assessment and how groups are shaped by the selective pressure of contests.

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