, Volume 41, Issue 3, pp 249-265

Function and distribution of coalitions in captive bonobos (Pan paniscus)

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We examined the distribution of support behaviour within a captive group of bonobos. Most support was evoked by inter-sexual conflicts with the two highest ranking females. Within a dyad, the usual winner was most often supported. Individuals that challenged the rank order by aggressions and pestering were aggressed more often by their targets in the company of an ally. The two lowest ranking males served as scapegoats, receiving 80% of the contra-support. In coalitions, inviduals did not aggress victims they would not dare to attack without supporters. However, the victims of coalitions reacted more strongly with fear and rarely counteraggressed than when being attacked alone, indicative of the high impact of aggression in support. The alpha female showed some control behaviour when intervening in conflicts. The data fitted with several functional hypotheses: coalitions functioned to maintain existing ranks, to acquire ranks, to reduce tension, and to test or strengthen the bond. We suggest that support behaviour fulfilled a crucial role in the maintenance of the power of the two highest ranking females over the males. Among the females themselves the dominance relationships were not based on coalitions, but on individual attributes.