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AN EXPERIMENTAL EVALUATION OF THE CONSISTENCY OF COMPETITIVE ABILITY AND AGONISTIC DOMINANCE IN DIFFERENT SOCIAL CONTEXTS IN CAPTIVE BONOBOS

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Bonobos have been described as a relatively egalitarian and female dominant species. The exact nature and quality of their dominance relationships and the existence of female dominance are current topics of dispute. We investigated the consistency across social contexts, the stability in time, and the degree of expression of the competitive feeding ability and agonistic dominance in a captive group of bonobos. First, we examined whether the competitive feeding ranks and agonistic ranks differed in different dyadic contexts, triadic contexts and the whole group context. For some pairs of animals the dominance relationships with respect to competitive feeding altered with different group compositions. The agonistic dominance relationships changed accordingly. The competitive feeding ranks and agonistic ranks in the experiments correlated strongly with each other. The alpha position was occupied by a female, but not all females outranked all males. We suggest that females can profit from each others presence to gain inter-sexual dominance. Second, although the agonistic rank order in the whole group remained the same over at least five years, some dyadic competitive feeding ranks changed over time, resulting in a stronger female intersexual dominance. Third, the degree of expression of the behaviors used to quantify dyadic competitive and agonistic dominance was not high, in line with the popular 'egalitarian' epithet. Notwithstanding its low consistency across contexts, the dominance hierarchy in the whole group has a strong predictive value for other social relationships such as grooming. Given this strong effect of rank on other behaviours and given the strong dependency of rank on social context, the choice of the right party members may be a crucial factor in the fission-fusion processes of free-ranging bonobos.

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