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The influence of the steepness of dominance hierarchies on reciprocity and interchange in captive groups of bonobos (Pan paniscus)

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Biological market models explain variability in reciprocity and interchange between groups. In groups with a shallow dominance gradient, grooming will be mostly exchanged for itself (i.e. exchange will occur). In groups with steep dominance hierarchies, interchange is expected: individuals will groom higher ranking individuals to get access to limited resources or commodities such as support in conflicts, and grooming will be traded for these commodities.We examine patterns of reciprocity in grooming and support, and of interchange of grooming for support or for tolerance in six captive groups of bonobos. We test whether differences between groups in patterns of reciprocity and interchange can be attributed to differences in a measure of steepness of dominance hierarchies, which is based on dyadic agonistic interactions.We found that grooming was reciprocal in some, but not all groups. Support was highly reciprocal, but this was a side effect of dominance in most groups. Interchange between grooming and support was observed in some groups. Corroborating earlier findings, this was a side effect of individuals preferring high ranking individuals as grooming and support partners, possibly because these high-ranking individuals provide more efficient support in conflicts. There was no evidence for interchange of grooming for tolerance.Variability in grooming reciprocity was explained by differences in steepness of dominance hierarchies, as predicted by the biological market models. In groups with a shallow dominance hierarchy, grooming was more reciprocal. This was not true for reciprocity in support. There was some evidence that individuals groomed dominants more frequently in groups with a steep dominance hierarchy. The variation in interchange relations between grooming and support did not depend on the steepness of dominance hierarchies. We suggest that grooming in itself is a valuable commodity in bonobos, especially under captive conditions, which can be exchanged reciprocally. Bonobos may interchange grooming for another value equivalent, with food sharing as a very likely candidate. This interchange effects seem more dependent on potential to monopolise food than on steepness of dominance hierarchies per se.

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