Mating skew in Barbary macaque males: the role of female mating synchrony, female behavior, and male–male coalitions


A fundamental question of sexual selection theory concerns the causes and consequences of reproductive skew among males. The priority of access (PoA) model (Altmann, Ann NY Acad Sci 102:338–435, 1962) has been the most influential framework in primates living in permanent, mixed-sex groups, but to date it has only been tested with the appropriate data on female synchrony in a handful of species. In this paper, we used mating data from one large semi-free ranging group of Barbary macaques: (1) to provide the first test of the priority-of-access model in this species, using mating data from 11 sexually active females (including six females that were implanted with a hormonal contraceptive but who showed levels of sexual activity comparable to those of naturally cycling females) and (2) to determine the proximate mechanism(s) underlying male mating skew. Our results show that the fit of the observed distribution of matings with sexually attractive females to predictions of the PoA model was poor, with lower-ranking males mating more than expected. While our work confirms that female mating synchrony sets an upper limit to monopolization by high-ranking individuals, other factors are also important. Coalitionary activity was the main tactic used by males to lower mating skew in the study group. Coalitions were expressed in a strongly age-related fashion and allowed subordinate, post-prime males to increase their mating success by targeting more dominant, prime males. Conversely, females, while mating promiscuously with several males during a given mating cycle, were more likely to initiate their consortships with prime males, thus reducing the overall effectiveness of coalitions. We conclude that high-ranking Barbary macaque males have a limited ability to monopolize mating access, leading to a modest mating skew among them

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