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Female dispersal, inbreeding avoidance and mate choice in Thomas langurs (Presbytis thomasi)

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image of Behaviour

Female social dispersal in primates differs from the general mammalian pattern of locational dispersal. Both nulliparous and parous females may disperse to another group. Several hypotheses can explain female social dispersal: reduction of predation risk, inbreeding avoidance, and offspring protection through mate choice. We tested these hypotheses with an extended data set of Thomas langurs (Presbytis thomasi) and investigated parameters of male behaviour that females may use in their dispersal decisions. Data were collected over a 12.5-year period from a wild population in Sumatra, Indonesia, allowing for some critical tests of the hypotheses. Females dispersed to a group smaller than their original one, thereby refuting the predation risk hypothesis. Maturing nulliparous females only dispersed when their father was resident. Therefore, dispersal by nulliparous females was best explained through inbreeding avoidance. Parous females transferred to young, adult males. These males provided better protection to offspring against predation and infanticide than the old, late tenure males. Therefore, females transfer to better protector males. The male behavioural cues that females use to assess male quality were unclear. Females, however, may use proxies of male age, such as group composition and acoustical characteristics of loud calls, as indicators of male quality. The results suggest that female mate choice is an important function of social dispersal by parous females. Its importance in locational dispersal remains to be investigated.


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