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In ethology, the nasty neighbour effect describes the phenomenon whereby territory-holding animals behave more strongly toward familiar conspecific neighbours than to unfamiliar conspecifics. This phenomenon may be generally advantageous to an animal because the heightened response reduces the likelihood of a nearby intruder entering the territory and taking the resources it contains whereas an unfamiliar or distant territory-holder poses less of a threat. This reduced response minimises the time, energy and risk of injury incurred during territorial encounters with animals which are less of a threat to the territory holder. The nasty neighbour effect is the converse of the dear enemy effect in which some species are less aggressive towards their neighbours than towards unfamiliar strangers.

The striped mouse (Rhabdomys pumilio) is group living with one single breeding male and up to four communally breeding females per group. Groups typically contain several philopatric adult sons (and daughters) that are believed not to breed in their natal group and all group members participate in territorial defence. When aggression in wild group-living male breeders was tested in a neutral test arena, they were nearly five times more aggressive towards their neighbours than towards strangers, leading to the prediction that neighbours are the most important competitors for paternity. Using a molecular parentage analysis it was shown that 28% of offspring are sired by neighbouring males and only 7% by strangers.[1]

Colonies of the weaver ant (Oecophylla smaragdina) are able to recognize a greater proportion of workers from neighbouring colonies as non-colony members. When recognized as non-colony members, more aggression is exhibited toward neighbours than non-neighbours.[2] Banded mongoose (Mungos mungo) groups vocalize more and inspect more scent samples in response to olfactory cues of neighbours than strangers.[3] It has been suggested that increased aggression towards neighbours is more common in social species with intense competition between neighbours, as opposed to reduced aggression towards neighbours typical for most solitary species. Furthermore, animals may respond in this way when encounters with intruders from non-neighboring colonies are rare and of little consequence.

Female New Zealand bellbirds (Anthornis melanura) are more aggressive toward the songs of neighbouring females, indicating that neighbouring females pose a greater threat than strangers in this species.[4]

Female hen harriers (Circus cyaneus) responses towards neighbours are more intense, mostly flights rather than calls, than responses towards female floaters (individuals without territories), which in turn were more intense than responses towards male floaters.[5]

No effectEdit

Guinea baboon (Papio papio) males which live in social groups called "gangs" do not differ in their response behaviour toward neighbouring and stranger males, and largely ignore any non-gang member, irrespective of familiarity; that is, they neither show a “dear enemy” nor “nasty neighbour” effect.[6]


  1. ^ Schradin, C., Schneider, C. and Lindholm, A.K., (2010). The nasty neighbour in the striped mouse (Rhabdomys pumilio) steals paternity and elicits aggression. Frontiers in Zoology, 7: 19. DOI:10.1186/1742-9994-7-19
  2. ^ Newey, P.S., Robson, S.K. and Crozier, R.H., (2010). Weaver ants Oecophylla smaragdina encounter nasty neighbors rather than dear enemies. Ecology, 91(8):2366-72
  3. ^ Müller, C.A. and Manser, M.B., (2007). ‘Nasty neighbours’ rather than ‘dear enemies’ in a social carnivore. Proc. R. Soc. B., 274: 959-965
  4. ^ Brunton, D.H., Evans, B., Cope, T. and Ji, W., (2008). A test of the dear enemy hypothesis in female New Zealand bellbirds (Anthornis melanura): female neighbors as threats. Behavioral Ecology, 19 (4): 791-798. DOI: 10.1093/beheco/arn027 [1]
  5. ^ Temeles, E.J., (1990). Northern harriers on feeding territories respond more aggressively to neighbours than to floaters. Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol., 26:57–63. DOI: 10.1007/BF00174025
  6. ^ Maciej, P., Patzelt, A., Ndao, I., Hammerschmidt, K. and Julia Fischer, J., (2013). Social monitoring in a multilevel society: a playback study with male Guinea baboons. Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol., 67(1): 61–68. DOI: 10.1007/s00265-012-1425-1