Dominance and Status in Nonhuman Animals

In many nonhuman animal groups, there is a system of dominance and status that helps to determine which individuals have access to resources such as food, mates, and shelter. Dominance is often established through aggressive displays or physical fights, with the winner becoming the dominant individual in the group.

This dominance hierarchy can be very stable, with lower-ranked individuals showing deference to higher-ranked ones. Status can also be determined through other means, such as displays of physical prowess or impressive vocalizations. Both dominance and status can significantly impact an individual's ability to survive and reproduce in their environment.

What are the Dominance and Status of Nonhuman Animals?

Dominance and rank are essential in animal behaviour because they affect individual interactions and decide access to resources. Dominance and status are essential in many species' social organization and behaviour. In many species, dominance is established through aggressive interactions, such as fights or displays of strength, and is maintained through threats and posturing.

Dominant individuals may control access to resources such as food, mating opportunities, or territory and may use their dominance to suppress the behaviour of subordinate individuals.

Status, on the other hand, may be based on a variety of factors, including age, size, experience, or reproductive success. Status refers to an animal's recognition and regard within a community, and it is frequently founded on dominance. Status can also be influenced by an individual's social connections or alliances with other group members. While dominance and status are frequently connected, there are some critical distinctions between the two.

For example, if an individual's place in the social order depends on other variables such as age or experience, they may have high prestige without necessarily being powerful. Similarly, a person can be dominant without obviously having a high rank if their influence over others is mainly founded on aggression and intimidation rather than their place in the hierarchy.

What Factors Affect Dominant Behaviour?

Several variables can influence dominance across animal species, which include −

Physical Strength

In many species, physical strength is essential in deciding supremacy. For example, the alpha male is usually the most robust and physically powerful wolf in a wolf group. Similarly, in many primate cultures, group leaders are frequently the most physically powerful individual.


Size also plays a role in deciding supremacy, especially in species where direct conflict is rare. In many bird species, for example, the bigger and more imposing males are frequently more effective at attracting partners and establishing control over other males.


In many species, aggression can play a significant role in deciding dominance. Males, for example, will participate in aggressive displays to establish authority and obtain access to females in many fish species.

Social Status

In many species, social standing can play a significant role in deciding dominance. In elephant communities, for example, older females are frequently the most dominant members of the group, with a critical position in decision-making and resource distribution.

Resource Availability

The abundance of resources can also impact supremacy. In a lion pack, for example, the male with the most area and access to the most food is often the most powerful.


In social animals such as primates, experience can also play a role in deciding authority. In a community of chimps, for example, older males with more experience managing social interactions are often more effective than younger, less experienced males in establishing dominance.

Factors Affecting Status Among Animals


Dominant individuals typically engage in assertive behaviours such as violence, intimidation, and territorial displays to access resources such as food, partners, and refuge. Submissive individuals, on the other hand, avoid confrontation and submit to the dominant individual. Many animals, from wolves and chimps to tamed pets and chickens, have dominance hierarchies. The hierarchical structure facilitates more efficient resource allocation and lowers the probability of expensive conflicts.


Age is also essential in deciding an animal's social group rank. Because of their experience and education, older individuals are accorded higher respect and power in many species. They may be higher in the societal order, with younger individuals deferring to them. Younger individuals, on the other hand, may question the status quo and try to establish their authority, resulting in conflicts and power struggles. Overall, age significantly impacts the dynamics of animal social organizations.

Reproductive Success

The capacity to generate viable offspring or reproductive success, is a crucial element influencing an animal's status. Individuals with effective mating and parenting behaviours can better guarantee the longevity and success of their genes in future generations, which often leads to higher societal standing.


An animal's position can be influenced by intelligence by allowing it to navigate social hierarchies, interact successfully, and acquire food and resources. Higher-intellect animals can acquire new abilities and adjust to changing surroundings, giving them a competitive edge in their social group.

Resource Control

Control over resources such as food or area can impact an animal's position. For example, in a group of meerkats, the person with authority over access to the best food sources may have a better rank than others.


Cooperation among creatures can affect their position, including increased possibilities of life, reproduction, and access to resources. It can also aid in establishing power structures and social connections, eventually influencing an individual's place within the group and overall success within their environment.

How can Dominance and status Distort Equality in animal groups?

Dominance and status can distort equality among group members in many animal societies. Dominance hierarchies are frequently formed through aggressive encounters and physical demonstrations, with higher-ranking individuals having greater access to resources such as sustenance, partners, and territory. As a result, the lower-ranking individual may be denied access to these resources, resulting in uneven allocation and possibly unfavourable outcomes such as decreased reproductive success, increased stress levels, and decreased general health.

Such as in chimpanzee societies, dominance hierarchies are well-established, with the dominant male and female having the most authority and access to resources such as sustenance and partners. Lower-ranking individuals may be denied access to these tools, causing social and bodily stress. In wolf packs, influential individuals may restrict followers' ability to mate or engage in collective hunts. This can cause stress and bodily damage to subordinate wolves and diminish the pack's overall efficacy.

Furthermore, dominant individuals in some species may use their status to repress or hurt subordinates, aggravating inequality and possibly contributing to societal instability. An example of this can be ants and bees' colonies; the queen or powerful individuals have the most influence over reproduction and decision-making. This can result in subordinates being suppressed and genetic variation within the colony being diminished.

In addition, creating dominant-subordinate relationships can restrict group members' opportunities for teamwork and cooperation. This can impair individuals' ability to collaborate to accomplish shared objectives, possibly limiting the group's overall success. While authority and rank are natural and essential for some species, they can cause equitable errors and harmful repercussions for submissive individuals and the community.


Status and dominance are essential in shaping an individual's place within society. Dominance can create power imbalances that distort equality, while status can influence an individual's access to resources, opportunities, and social connections. It is essential to strive for a more equitable and fair society that recognizes and values the contributions of all individuals, regardless of their status or background.

Updated on: 19-Apr-2023


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