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Clearly numerous animals have a hierarchy - hereditary one. For example, I understand zebras have a pecking order, and must map this hierarchy from highest to first in line and lowest to last in line when traveling, and they can be brutalized for breaking this hierarchy. (Interestingly, they allow looser rules for their young.) (Reference.)

Cows apparently spend inordinate amounts of time with certain other animals, and avoid others still. (Reference.)

My question is: why do animals need the hierarchies and alliances? Because human adults tend to make friends with people based on the kind of people they are.

I would imagine that they may have signals that indicate competing survival strategies (for example, a man with thick, tattoo covered arms vs a man in a tie) and that these likenesses try to propagate at the expense of others by forming alliances using organisms that possess these attributes (very vaguely akin to "the selfish gene.")

Or does it have something to do with advertised fitness? I just have to wonder how grazing animals manage to compete over food. Does it control access to reproduction?

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  • $\begingroup$ Practically all social groups have hierarchies. Why shouldn't cows? $\endgroup$ – MattDMo May 17 '15 at 3:12
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    $\begingroup$ Why is this closed? The question is super clear and well bound. $\endgroup$ – bobthejoe May 18 '15 at 5:41
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    $\begingroup$ @bobthejoe Why is this closed? I explained my reasons in a "comment-answer" below. I still don't think it is clear. But if you understand the question, you can maybe address my misunderstanding below to help others. Or you could eventually directly try to answer the question. $\endgroup$ – Remi.b May 18 '15 at 18:56
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    $\begingroup$ I think this is too broad an unclear. There are many types of herds and social groups in different species, some loose, relatively unstructured groups used e.g. during migration and others based on territorial males, with intermediate stages in between these extremes. Some might also be based on relatedness between individuals in the group (so aspects of inclusive fitness might apply). I therefore think this currently is too broad to answer in a Q/A format, and it is also unclear exactly why you are asking and what species you are interested in. $\endgroup$ – fileunderwater May 19 '15 at 7:54
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    $\begingroup$ @fileunderwater, I frankly disagree. Meaning that a question covers a large amount of space should not rule out its answer-ability. If the question contained multiple questions, then I would agree. However, this is directly asking for the social hierarchies of herd animals which I think is a well bound question. $\endgroup$ – bobthejoe Jun 3 '15 at 16:22
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Could not fit in a comment...

There are several issues with your question.

  1. The correct question is not why such species need something but rather why it occurs in this species. In other words, why did a hierarchy evolved in a given species?

  2. It is unclear to me why your are interest in cows (or other grazing animals) rather than any other species that has some kind of hierarchy and therefore your question is a bit unclear.

  3. There are several questions in your post. A post should always be limited to one question.

  4. I personally have never heard of the concept of "advertised fitness". How do you define it?

  5. I am not sure how much you are interested in the evolution of social traits and especially about reputation and how much you are interested in Machiavellian intelligence. In any case, you may probably want to read about the evolution of social traits (kin selection, it may take you some time) and about the social selection pressures for the evolution of cognition, such as Machiavelian intelligence.

For all those reasons I vote to close. But I hoped that those comments can help you to clarify your post and to seek for more information.

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