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Behavior patterns in which an animal actively defends a space or some other resource. One major advantage of territoriality is that it gives the territory holder exclusive access to the defended resource, which is generally associated with feeding, breeding, or shelter from predators or climatic forces. Feeding and breeding territories can be mobile, such as when an animal defends a newly obtained food source or a temporarily receptive mate. Stationary territories often serve multiple functions and include access to food, a place to rear young, and a refuge site from predators and the elements.

Territoriality can be understood in terms of the benefits and costs accrued to territory holders. Benefits include time saved by foraging in a known area, energy acquired through feeding on territorial resources, reduction in time spent on the lookout for predators, or increase in number of mates attracted and offspring raised. Costs usually involve time and energy expended in patrolling and defending the territorial site, and increased risk of being captured by a predator when engaged in territorial defense.

Because territories usually include resources that are in limited supply, active defense is often necessary. Such defense frequently involves a graded series of behaviors called displays that include threatening gestures such as vocalizations, spreading of wings or gill covers, lifting and presentation of claws, head bobbing, tail and body beating, and finally, direct attack. Direct confrontation can usually be avoided by advertising the location of a territory in a way that allows potential intruders to recognize the boundaries and avoid interactions with the defender. Such advertising may involve odors that are spread with metabolic by-products, such as urine or feces in dogs, cats, or beavers, or produced specifically as territory markers, as in ants. Longer-lasting territorial marks can involve visual signals such as scrapes and rubs, as in deer and bear. See Chemical ecology, Ethology, Population ecology, Reproductive behavior

McGraw-Hill Concise Encyclopedia of Bioscience. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the occupation of a physical area by animals to determine the spatial relationships among individuals of the same species or of various species. Territoriality regulates the distribution and population level of animals. Species are classified as nonmigratory, or territorial, and migratory. Individuals or families of territorial species occupy definite areas, which they often defend against intruders. Territorial aquatic animals inelude crustaceans, mollusks, members of the suborder Batoidei, certain sharks, members of the suborder Ceratioidei, pike, and sheatfish. Territorial terrestrials include insects, especially large predators, and reptiles, mainly lizards, snakes, and turtles.

Territoriality has been most thoroughly studied in birds and mammals. Among birds, territories are defended by individuals, usually males, or by families. Some species defend only the territory immediately adjacent to their shelter and feed with neighbors in common feeding grounds. Rodents and other animals defend feeding grounds as well. Often several families group together in one area, which they defend against newcomers. Prides of lions, consisting of several males and females with their young, occupy a hunting ground dozens of square kilometers in area. The males defend this territory from intruders, while the females feed the entire pride by hunting. Small birds, rodents, and many predators establish and defend nesting areas only during the reproductive season. Later the families gather into large groups and lead a migratory way of life, which facilitates the collective training of the young.

Another form of territoriality is characteristic of migratory species, such as ungulates, cetaceans, pinnipeds, and many primates, the communities of which occupy definite feeding grounds. At the mating places of ungulates and the lies of pinnipeds, the males form harems that occupy definite areas. Small, jealously guarded nesting areas are established in nesting colonies of seagulls, other seashore bird colonies, and heavily populated communities of marmots, susliks, and pikas.


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Naumov, N. P. Ekologiia zhivotnykh. Moscow, 1963.
MacFadyen, A. Ekologiia zhivotnykh. (Translated from English.) Moscow, 1965.
Odum, E. Osnovy ekologii. (Translated from English.) Moscow, 1975.
Kendeigh, S. C. Ecology. New York-London, 1974.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


A pattern of behavior in which one or more animals occupy and defend a definite area or territory.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
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Our observations led us to define the territorial individuals as such, given that their behaviour met the three simultaneous conditions proposed by Brown and Orians (1970) as being essential when attempting to show territoriality. The first states that a territory must show a slow change over time, or be fixed; which was clearly demonstrated for the Little Blue Herons studied here.
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