Female dispersal and reproductive success in wild western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla)
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This paper presents data on the dispersal patterns and reproductive success of western lowland gorilla females from a long-term study at Mbeli Bai in the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park, Republic of Congo. We find that female natal and secondary transfer is common. Female immigration rates are negatively related to group size, and emigration rates are positively related to group size, with the net result that larger groups are losing females and smaller groups are gaining females. Furthermore, females transferring between known groups show a preference for significantly smaller groups. However, there is no effect of group size on female reproductive success. Male protection and male quality are considered important in determining female transfer decisions. The case for infanticide is argued and females exhibit strategies that appear to minimise the probability of infanticide following the death of the silverback. Exclusively single-male groups and group formation through female acquisition by solitary males may bias female transfer to lone silverbacks and small groups. The effects of group size on female dispersal and reproductive success are not wholly consistent with an argument for increased foraging costs, and group size effects are more parsimoniously explained by demographic factors. Male protection from intra-group aggression is the most likely factor underlying grouping patterns across gorilla taxa, but differences in population structure and male reproductive strategies may account for inter-specific variation. We stress the need for intra-specific comparisons and more complete data sets on western lowland gorilla feeding behaviour.