Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 67, Issue 11, pp 1767–1780 | Cite as

Intersexual dominance relationships and the influence of leverage on the outcome of conflicts in wild bonobos (Pan paniscus)

  • Martin Surbeck
  • Gottfried Hohmann
Original Paper


Dominance relationships between females and males are characteristic traits of species and are usually associated with sexual dimorphism. Exploring the social and contextual circumstances in which females win conflicts against males allows one to study the conditions triggering shifting power asymmetries between the sexes. This study investigates dominance relationships in bonobos (Pan paniscus), a species in which females are thought to display social dominance despite male-biased sexual dimorphism. To identify dominance relationships among females and males, we first explored how intrasexual dominance status affects the outcome of intersexual conflicts. Second, by incorporating social and behavioral information about the context of intersexual conflicts, we tested to which extent different components of power are relevant to the observed asymmetries in the relationships. Post-hoc analyses indicate a sex-independent dominance hierarchy with several females occupying the top ranks. Our results also reveal that two factors—female leverage and motivation to help offspring—had a significant influence on the outcome of intersexual conflicts. The results of our study do not indicate an overall reduction in male aggression against females but do show lower levels of male aggression in the mating context, and an absence of male aggression toward those females displaying visual signs of elevated fecundity. This indicates that both female sexuality and male mating strategies are involved in the shifting dominance relationships between the sexes.


Female coalition formation Female feeding priority Winner–loser effect Self-organization hypothesis Sexual coercion Apes 



We thank the Institut Congolaise pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) for granting permission to conduct research at Salonga National Park. Fieldwork at LuiKotale is supported by the Max-Planck-Society, the L.S.B. Leakey Foundation, the National Geographic Society, the Volkswagen Foundation, the Basler Stiftung für biologische Forschung, and private donors. MS was funded during parts of this study by the Förderkreis des Deutschen Primatenzentrums and by a SNSF grant. We thank Christophe Boesch for support during various stages of the project; Barbara Fruth for stimulating discussions and help in conducting fieldwork; Roger Mundry for lending a hand with data analysis; Lambert Booto, Isaac Schamberg and Wilson Schersten for assistance in the field; Tobias Deschner, Oliver Schuelke, David Watts, Carolyn Rowney, Mimi Arandjelovic and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on earlier versions of the manuscript.

Ethical standards

The methods used to collect observational data in the field are in compliance with the requirements and guidelines of the ICCN and adhere to the legal requirements of the host country, the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Supplementary material

265_2013_1584_MOESM1_ESM.docx (21 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 21 kb)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary AnthropologyLeipzigGermany

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