Feeding-order in an urban feral domestic cat colony: relationship to dominance rank, sex and age.
In social species, dominance relationships and access to food resources are often affected by asymmetries in resource-holding potential (RHP) between competitors of different age-sex classes with males usually being dominant and feeding first, followed by females and then juveniles. In this study we investigated how variables such as sex and age affected dominance rank and feeding order in a social group of feral domestic cats, Felis silvestris catus, a sexually dimorphic species in which males are larger than females and do not take part in parental care. Intersexual dominance relationships varied depending on the competitive context: males occupied top rank positions away from food, whereas females increased in rank at the expense of males in a feeding context. Around the age of 4-6 months, kittens were significantly more likely than adults of both sexes to be the first to feed, indicating that they received a certain level of tolerance. These results provide support for game-theory models predicting conflict outcome in favour of the smaller competitor when asymmetries in both the value of winning and in the cost of winning inappropriately may compensate for the smaller competitor's lower RHP. It is suggested that the results are not an artifact of domestication: unlike male lions, Panthera leo, which usually dominate both females and cubs at kills, male domestic cats may value the food less than females and juveniles, because they do not need to maintain constantly a peak physical condition to defend a group of females and protect offspring from infanticide.