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An Ecological Model of Female-Bonded Primate Groups

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1. Multi-female groups of primates fall into two main classes, (a) female-bonded (FB) and (b) non-female-bonded (non-FB). A model is presented to account for the evolution of FB groups in terms of ecological pressures on female relationships. 2. The model suggests that FB groups have evolved as a result of competition for high-quality food patches containing a limited number of feeding sites. Groups are viewed as being based on cooperative relationships among females. These relationships are beneficial because cooperators act together to supplant others from preferred food patches. 3. Ecological data support the model for most FB species, but not for Theropithecus gelada or Colobus guereza, whose foods are not found in high-quality patches with limited feeding sites. Non-FB species conform to expectation, either because they do not use high-quality patches, or because feeding competition has disruptive effects during periods of food scarcity. 4. The behaviour of females differs as expected between FB and non-FB species in group movements and in inter-group interactions; in both contexts females are more involved in FB species. 5. Multi-male groups tend to be found in non-territorial FB species. The presence of several males per group is suggested to benefit females by raising the competitive ability of the group in inter-group interactions. 6. Competitive relationships among females are more strongly marked in FB groups than in non-FB groups. The model suggests that relationships in most FB groups are ultimately related to feeding competition.

Affiliations: 1: King's College Research Centre, King's College, Cambridge, England


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