, Volume 11, Issue 1, pp 21-45

Ecology of gorillas and its relation to female transfer in mountain gorillas

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Abstract

Understanding the principles that underly primate social evolution depends on integrated analysis of data on behavioral ecology, demography, life history tactics, and social organization. In this paper, data on the behavioral ecology of gorillas are reviewed and comparisons made among the three subspecies. Gorillas are selective feeders; and, their patterns of food choice are consistent with models of feeding by large generalist herbivores. They rely heavily on terrestrial herbaceous vegetation, which provides an abundant supply of densely distributed food. Availability of this food varies little in space and time; and, gorilla foraging activity can maintain its productivity. The level of frugivory and the extent of seasonal variation in diet and habitat use vary among and within populations. Low variability in food distribution patterns makes cooperative defense of foraging areas not worthwhile; but, it also means that ecological costs associated with gregariousness are low. However, demographic and life history data on mountain gorillas show that these costs may be sufficient to reduce female reproductive success as group size increases. Advantages to being with high quality males apparently can outweigh these costs. The implications of these data for the evolution of the mountain gorilla social system, and the possible roles of male protection, predation, and female/female competition in this regard, are discussed.