Original Paper

Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 67, Issue 3, pp 373-381

First online:

Fitness benefits of coalitionary aggression in male chimpanzees

  • Ian C. GilbyAffiliated withDepartment of Evolutionary Anthropology, Duke University Email author 
  • , Lauren J. N. BrentAffiliated withDuke Institute for Brain Sciences, Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, Duke University
  • , Emily E. WroblewskiAffiliated withDepartment of Structural Biology, Stanford University School of Medicine
  • , Rebecca S. RudicellAffiliated withDepartment of Microbiology, University of Alabama at Birmingham
  • , Beatrice H. HahnAffiliated withDepartment of Medicine, University of PennsylvaniaDepartment of Microbiology, University of Pennsylvania
  • , Jane GoodallAffiliated withThe Jane Goodall Institute
  • , Anne E. PuseyAffiliated withDepartment of Evolutionary Anthropology, Duke University

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Coalitionary aggression occurs when at least two individuals jointly direct aggression at one or more conspecific targets. Scientists have long argued that this common form of cooperation has positive fitness consequences. Nevertheless, despite evidence that social bond strength (which is thought to promote coalition formation) is correlated with fitness in primates, cetaceans, and ungulates, few studies have directly examined whether coalitionary aggression improves reproductive success. We tested the hypothesis that among free-ranging chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii), participation in coalitionary aggression increases reproductive output. Using 14 years of genetic and behavioral data from Gombe National Park, Tanzania, we found that coalitionary aggression increased a male’s chances of (A) siring offspring, compared to other males of similar dominance rank, and (B) ascending in rank, a correlate of future reproductive output. Because male chimpanzees form coalitions with many others within a complex network, we used social network analysis to identify the types of connections correlated with these fitness benefits. The beneficiaries of coalitionary aggression were males with the highest “betweenness”—that is, those who tended to have coalition partners who themselves did not form coalitions with each other. This suggests that beyond simply recognizing third-party relationships, chimpanzees may use this knowledge to choose coalition partners. If so, this is a significant step forward in our knowledge of the adaptive value of social intelligence. Regardless of mechanism, however, this is the first evidence of genetic benefits of coalitionary aggression in this species, and therefore has important implications for understanding the evolution of cooperation.


Coalition Chimpanzee Social network analysis Cooperation Paternity Dominance rank Social bonds