Mountain gorilla tug-of-war: Silverbacks have limited control over reproduction in multimale groups



Bradley BJ, Robbins MM, Williamson EA, Steklis HD, Gerald-Steklis N, Eckhardt N, Boesch C & Vigilant L (2005) Mountain gorilla tug-of-war: Silverbacks have limited control over reproduction in multimale groups. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 102 (26), pp. 9418-9423.

To determine who fathers the offspring in wild mountain gorilla groups containing more than one adult male silverback, we genotyped nearly one-fourth (n = 92) of the mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) living in the Virunga Volcanoes region of Africa. Paternity analysis of 48 offspring born into four groups between 1985 and 1999 revealed that, although all infants were sired by within-group males, the socially dominant silverback did not always monopolize reproduction within his group. Instead, the second-ranking male sired an average of 15% of group offspring. This result, in combination with previous findings that secondranking males fare best by not leaving the group but by staying and waiting to assume dominance even if no reproduction is possible while waiting, is not consistent with expectations from a reproductive skew model in which the silverback concedes controllable reproduction to the second-ranking male. Instead, the data suggest a ‘‘tug-of-war’’ scenario in which neither the dominant nor the second-ranking male has full control over his relative reproductive share. The two top-ranked males were typically unrelated and this, in combination with the mixed paternity of group offspring, means that multimale gorilla groups do not approximate family groups. Instead, as long-term assemblages of related and unrelated individuals, gorilla groups are similar to chimpanzee groups and so offer interesting possibilities for kinbiased interactions among individuals.

gorilla; paternity; Gorilla; Social behavior in animals; Gorilla behavior

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: Volume 102, Issue 26

Publication date28/06/2005
Publication date online17/06/2005
Date accepted by journal12/05/2005
PublisherNational Academy of Sciences

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Professor Liz Williamson

Professor Liz Williamson

Honorary Professor, Psychology