, Volume 6, Issue 1, pp 29-38

Mating patterns and reproductive strategies in a community of wild chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii)

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Summary

  1. The sexual behaviour of a chimpanzee community in the Gombe National Park, Tanzania, was studied intensively for 16 months. Additional information came from 15 years of demographic and behavioural data accumulated by Jane Goodall and members of the Gombe Stream Research Centre.

  2. The mating system of the Gombe chimpanzees is flexible and comprises three distinct mating patterns: (a) opportunistic, non-competitive mating, when an oestrous female may be mated by all the community males; (b) possessiveness, when a male forms a special short-term relationship with an oestrous female and may prevent lower-ranking males from copulating with her; and (c) consortships, when a male and a female leave the group and remain alone, actively avoiding other chimpanzees. While males took the initiative in possessive behaviour and consortships, females had to cooperate for a successful relationship to develop.

  3. Data from 14 conceptions indicated that the majority of females (9) became pregnant while participating in the restrictive mating patterns, possessiveness and consorting. It could be established definitely that seven of these females were consorting during the cycle in which they conceived. As 73% of the 1137 observed copulations occurred during opportunistic mating, 25% during possessiveness, and only 2% during consortships, there was no correlation between copulation frequency and reproductive success.

  4. Adult males showed differential frequencies of participation in the restrictive mating patterns. Male age, dominance rank, and the amount of agonistic behaviour directed to females showed no correlation with participation in the restrictive mating patterns. The following male characteristics did show significant, positive correlations with involvement in the restrictive mating patterns: (a) the amount of time spent in the same group as oestrous females, (b) the proportion of that time spent grooming oestrous females in groups, and (c) the frequency with which males shared food with females. While dominance ranks of the adult males showed no consistent correlation with involvement in the restrictive mating patterns, it was clear that the most dominant male did gain an advantage. He was the only male able to monopolise oestrous females by showing possessive behaviour.

  5. Consortships appeared to be the optimal reproductive strategy for males (with the exception of the most dominant) and females, as they gave males the highest probability of reproductive success, and allowed females to exercise choice. However, there appeared to be disadvantages associated with consort formation; the greatest of these was the increased risk of intercommunity encounters. While all individuals have the potential to practice each mating pattern, the strategy actually used at any moment will be determined by variables both within the individual, e.g. age, physical condition, dominance position; and by social factors in the group, e.g. general stability of male dominance relationships, presence of a strong alpha male, existence of special male-female relationships.