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Rank Maintenance in Female Japanese Macaques: Experimental Evidence for Social Dependency

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In many species of cercopithecines characterized by a matrilineal dominance system, a female inherits her mother's rank (genealogical rank) and there is no correlation between a female's genealogical rank and her physical strength. This paper explores the determinants of rank maintenance and rank stability in such systems. Theoretically, a female might be in need of allies to maintain her rank because (1) she could be challenged by single larger females in dyadic agonistic interactions, and/or (2) she could be challenged by smaller or same-size females acting together (rebellious coalitions). A series of experiments designed to test these two possibilities were carried out in a captive group of Japanese macaques (N = 17) comprised of three families with similar age-sex compositions. Experimental subgroups of females were formed to test the capacity of a single female (i. e. with none of her relatives present) to maintain her rank above genealogically subordinate females (G-Subordinate females) in four social situations: (a) with same-age G-Subordinate females; (b) with a single, older G-Subordinate female, (c) with a group of G-Subordinate sisters, and (d) with a complete G-Subordinate family. Sixty seven experimental subgroups were formed, and 45% of these induced genealogical rank reversals. Low-ranking females appeared to be conditional opportunists who competed for rank only in situations where they clearly had more relative power than the single G-Dominant female (minimal risk strategy). In the experimental subgroups where a G-subordinate female was by herself (no kin present: situations a and b above), she challenged a single G-Dominant female only if the latter was younger and smaller than herself, and she did so only if the G-Dominant female was immature ( 3). Thus, single G-subordinate females did not challenge single same-age G-Dominant females nor did they even challenge single younger G-Dominant females if the latter were mature. In contrast, in the experimental subgroups comprised of a G-Subordinate kin group (situations c and d above), G-Subordinate females could challenge collectively, and outrank, single G-Dominant females, regardless of the latter's age (size). One important implication of these findings is that any female, regardless of her age, is dependent on allies (sensu KAWAI, 1965) to maintain her rank. Thus the hierarchy's stability in matrilineal dominance systems would reflect the existence of inter-individual differences in alliance power, such that for any dyad the G-Dominant female has more collective power than the G-Subordinate female. Two categories of mechanisms are discussed in this context. Stability might result from the dynamics of intra-familial alliances (power asymmetry or power equality among kin-based coalitions) and/or from the dynamics of inter-familial alliances (asymmetry of inter-familial dependence).

Affiliations: 1: (Département d'Anthropologie, Université de Montréal, C.P. 6128, Montréal, Québec, Canada H3C 3J7

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