Darwin referred to the adult male mandrill (Mandrillus sphinx) as the most brightly coloured of all mammals, citing the brilliant red and blue pigmentation of the face, rump, and genitalia as extreme examples of evolution by sexual selection. Considerable controversy exists concerning possible effects of sexually selected phenotypes via intermale competition on reproductive success. Behavioural and genetic studies of a large, semi-free ranging mandrill colony in Gabon have now demonstrated that clear-cut relationships exist between male secondary sexual development, social dominance, copulatory behaviour, and reproductive success in this primate species. Two morphological variants of adult male were identified; “fatted” males, with maximum secondary sexual coloration, which occupied dominant positions in the social group, and “non-fatted” males, with muted secondary sexual adornments, smaller testes and lower plasma testosterone levels, which lived as peripheral/solitary individuals. DNA fingerprinting analyses on infants born over five successive years showed that only the two most dominant, fatted males in the group had fathered offspring. Throughout the annual mating season these males attempted to mate-guard and copulate with females during periods of maximal sexual skin tumescence. Male rank and mating success were strongly positively related and the alpha male sired 80 – 100% of the resulting offspring during three consecutive years. Non-fatted adult males and group associated subadult males engaged in infrequent, opportunistic matings and did not guard females. Loss of alpha status resulted in a fall in reproductive success, but the effect was gradual; the deposed alpha male continued to father 67% and 25% of infants born during the next two years. Thus, whilst claims that male dominance determines mating success and paternity in primates have caused considerable debate, these results on mandrills provide unequivocal evidence for the existence of such effects.
Male dominanceSexual behaviourDNA fingerprintingReproductive successMandrill