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Do Female Chacma Baboons Compete for a Safe Spatial Position in a Southern Woodland Habitat?

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In this study troop of chacma baboons (Papio cynocephalus ursinus) at Mkuzi Game Reserve, Zululand, South-Africa, it is suggested that risk of predation and competition over safe spatial position had more importance and effect on female behaviour than did competition for food. Only 6.4% of all agonistic events were over food patches and no significant correlation was found between a female's dominance rank and proportion of time spent feeding, feeding bout length or diet composition. Parameters of reproductive success, such as inter-birth intervals and infant mortality were not correlated with female dominance rank. Female mortality, however, was related to dominance rank and all of the five females who disappeared during the study were low-ranking. Four of the five females disappeared after troop fission. There is circumstantial evidence supporting the suggestion that predation by leopards is the main cause of mortality of females at Mkuzi. High levels of female aggression were recorded, with almost no occurrences of support coalitions. Most of the aggression took place among similar ranking females, or was directed by the top ranking toward the lowest ranking females. Most of the female-to-female agonistic encounters were in a social context, and more than half were over a spatial position next to other adult troop members. Aggression among females increased after troop fission. It is suggested that the higher-ranking females may be better protected from predation, through access to more central spatial positions in the troop. Indeed, a positive correlation was found between a female's dominance rank and the time spent next to other adult troop members. It may be that avoiding food competition by keeping larger distances from others, while foraging, was translated in lower ranking females to a cost of higher predation risk.

Affiliations: 1: Behavioural Ecology Research Group, University of Natal, King George V Avenue, Durban 4001, Republic of South-Africa; 2: Department of Statistics and Department of Evolution, Systematics and Ecology, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jerusalem 91905, Israel


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