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Individualistic female dominance hierarchies with varying strength in a highly folivorous population of black-and-white colobus

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Females that do not experience strong contest competition for food are presumed to form ‘egalitarian’ relationships (i.e., lacking strong, linear dominance hierarchies). However, recent studies of Gorilla beringei beringei (mountain gorilla) have documented relatively strong, linear female dominance hierarchies despite them having a highly folivorous diet that generates relatively low levels of within-group contest competition (Robbins et al., 2005, 2007). To investigate if this pattern holds true for other highly folivorous species that may experience low levels of contest competition, we examined the linearity and strength of female dominance hierarchies in a population of Colobus vellerosus (ursine colobus or white-thighed colobus) at Boabeng-Fiema, Ghana. From 2004 to 2011, we collected data via ad libitum and focal sampling of 75 adult and subadult females in eight groups. Half of the study groups had few unknown submissive relationships, and females formed individualistic hierarchies with high linearity indices ranging from 0.9 to 1. There was between-group variation in all components of hierarchical strength (i.e., hierarchical expression, consistency, and stability). Groups showed varying rates of submission, and there was a short latency to detect a linear hierarchy in some groups and a long latency in other groups (i.e., varying levels of hierarchical expression). Females in most groups formed unidirectional and stable relationships. Maturing females challenged older females in some groups, and these groups had more non-linear relationships (i.e., dyads with more submissive interactions down rather than up the hierarchy) and higher rates of individual rank change than other groups. Based on low rates of submission, long latencies, and/or some inconsistencies, we conclude that most groups form relatively weak dominance hierarchies, similar to other egalitarian primates. However, a few groups formed strong dominance hierarchies, similar to some despotic primates. Colobus vellerosus occasionally forage on contestable food items, and this may provide enough incentive for females to establish individualistic dominance hierarchies of varying strength.

Affiliations: 1: dDepartment of Anthropology, University of Toronto, 19 Russell Street, Toronto, ON, Canada M5S 2S2; 2: bDepartment of Anthropology, University of Calgary, 2500 University Drive N.W., Calgary, AB, Canada T2N 1N4


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