, Volume 44, Issue 4, pp 359-369
Date: 27 Aug 2003

Intra-specific variation in social organization of gorillas: implications for their social evolution

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Abstract

We analysed intra-specific variation in the social organization of gorillas and ecological and social factors influencing them, based on recent data on diet, day journey length, home range size, group size and proportion of multi-male groups in three subspecies [western lowland gorillas (WLG); eastern lowland gorillas (ELG); mountain gorillas (MG)]. Median group size was similar across subspecies and across habitats, but the extraordinarily large group including >30 gorillas was only found in habitat with dense terrestrial herbaceous vegetation. Within-group competition may determine the upper limit of group size in frugivorous WLGs and ELGs in lowland habitats with scarce undergrowth. A frugivorous diet may be a causal factor of subgrouping in multi-male groups of WLGs and ELGs, while a folivorous diet may prevent subgrouping in multi-male groups of MGs. Social factors, rather than ecological factors, may play an important role in the formation of multi-male groups and their cohesiveness in MGs. High gregariousness of female gorillas and their prolonged association with a protector male are explained by their vulnerability to both infanticide (MGs) and predators (ELGs). Comparison of long-term changes in group composition and individual movements between ELGs in Kahuzi and MGs in the Virungas suggest that the occurrence of infanticide may promote kin-male association within a group. Threat of infanticide may stimulate MG females to transfer into multi-male groups to seek reliable protection and maturing MG males to stay in their natal groups after maturity. By contrast, the absence of infanticide may facilitate ELG females to associate with infants and other females at transfer and ELG males to establish large groups in a short period by taking females from their natal groups, by luring females from neighbouring groups, or by takeover of a widow group after the death of its leading male. These conditions may prevent ELG and WLG maturing males from remaining to reproduce in their natal groups and possibly result in a rare occurrence of multi-male groups in their habitats. Similar reproductive features of MG and ELG females suggest both female strategies have been adaptive in their evolutionary history.