Defense of group-held resources is a common and widely accepted function of territorial interactions between neighboring groups. In addition, territorial interactions could provide opportunities to assess members of neighboring groups and reproductive opportunities there, or to solidify status in the home group. We studied group-level characteristics and individual participation in territorial encounters in the cooperatively breeding Brown Jay (Cyanocorax morio). Intergroup encounters at stable territory boundaries include both aggressive and affiliative behavior, which suggests that a territorial encounter could function as both a resource defense mechanism and as an arena for social interactions. Territory characteristics that increase the probability of contact between groups (long boundaries, large combined group size, and home range overlap) explain much of the variation in frequency of territorial encounters. Male-biased dispersal was more common to neighboring groups with long boundaries, supporting the idea that frequent interactions between neighbors facilitate dispersal. Females usually inherit breeding positions on their natal territories, and participation in intergroup encounters by females does not vary with age or breeding status. In addition to defending group resources, females on their natal territories could be defending their positions in the breeding queue. Immigrant females are not likely to breed successfully, or to disperse again, and they participated less than expected. Participation by both natal and immigrant males varied by age; young males, at the ages when dispersal and intergroup forays are most likely, participated more than expected, whereas older males (≥4 years) participated less. That is consistent with the hypothesis that participation in intergroup encounters facilitates dispersal and improves integration into social groups. Because extragroup matings occur in this population, both breeding females and males could be assessing neighboring individuals for mating opportunities. Resource defense and social facilitation are not mutually exclusive hypotheses, and our observations suggest that both are important components of territorial encounters in Brown Jays.
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Vol. 120 • No. 2