High society: behavioral patterns as a feedback loop to social structure in Plains bison (Bison bison bison)

Kelsey C. King, Andrew J. Caven, Katie G. Leung, Dustin H. Ranglack, Nico Arcilla

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Social organization as a topic has wide application often conserved across lineages and can lead to complex cultures, yet it is still not well understood in many taxa. We observed American bison (Bison bison) to investigate the interactions of hierarchy and behavior to elucidate patterns of social organization. Bison are highly visible animals that live in relatively accessible grasslands, and most are in semi-wild conservation herds that allows for access to low-stress observation and physiological exams. We observed behaviors in a semi-wild, reintroduced herd of 53 bison in a 140-ha prairie from April to October 2015 (165 h of observation). After establishing a linear hierarchy, we categorized individuals of each sex as high, mid-, or low ranking and then evaluated behavioral trends across rank and sex. We found that high ranking males constantly defended their linear positions and focused breeding efforts on the females with the highest productivity, consistent with disruptive sex characteristics. Intra-rank conflict focused on linear positioning likely causes the volatility in male bison hierarchy and stress of domination. Female bison, however, tend to suppress the lowest class, which likely drives their hierarchy’s stability and stress of subordination. Our results show that male and female bison are impacted differently by their social rankings and show that individual aggressive actions may provide feedback loops to their social organization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)365-376
Number of pages12
JournalMammal Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Bison
  • Class conflict
  • Dominance
  • Hierarchy
  • Social structure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


Dive into the research topics of 'High society: behavioral patterns as a feedback loop to social structure in Plains bison (Bison bison bison)'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this