Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 68, Issue 12, pp 1973–1983 | Cite as

Male chimpanzees compromise the foraging success of their mates in Kibale National Park, Uganda

  • Melissa Emery Thompson
  • Martin N. Muller
  • Richard W. Wrangham
Original Paper


Sexual conflict develops when the optimal reproductive strategy for one sex inflicts fitness costs upon the other sex. Among species with intense within-group feeding competition and high costs of reproduction, females are expected to experience reduced foraging efficiency by associating with males, and this may compromise their reproductive ability. Here, we test this hypothesis in chimpanzees, a species with flexible grouping patterns in which female avoidance of large subgroups has been attributed to their relatively high costs of grouping. In an >11-year study of the Kanyawara community of East African chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) in the Kibale National Park, Uganda, the availability of sexually receptive females was a key determinant of the number of males in parties. In turn, females experienced significantly lower C-peptide of insulin levels, indicative of reduced energy balance, during periods when they associated with more males. Female associates did not produce the same negative effect. C-peptide levels positively and significantly predicted female ovarian steroid production, indicating that the costs of associating with males can lead to downstream reproductive costs. Therefore, we conclude that Kanyawara chimpanzees exhibit sexual conflict over subgroup formation, with the large groupings that allow males to compete for mating opportunities inflicting energetic and reproductive costs on females. Because association with males is central to female chimpanzees’ anti-infanticide strategy, and males may confer other benefits, we propose that reproductive success in female chimpanzees hinges on a delicate balance between the costs and benefits of associating with male conspecifics.


Apes Sexual conflict Costs of grouping Energy balance Ovarian function C-peptide of insulin 



Research was supported by National Science Foundation Grant # 0849380, the Leakey Foundation, and the American Association of Physical Anthropologists. Research permissions and institutional support were provided by the Uganda Wildlife Authority, Ugandan National Council for Science and Technology, the Makerere University Biological Field Station, and the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees at Harvard University and the University of New Mexico. We thank Dr. Emily Otali and the field staff of the Kibale Chimpanzee Project for maintaining daily data collections, and Sarah Schmidt, Jayda Patterson, and Erin Fitzgerald for assistance in the laboratory. Thank you also to two anonymous reviewers and to Maria van Noordwijk for their helpful comments.

Ethical standards

Research was conducted with approval from the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees of Harvard University and the University of New Mexico and local permissions from the Uganda Wildlife Authority, Ugandan National Council for Science and Technology, and the Makerere University Biological Field Station.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Melissa Emery Thompson
    • 1
  • Martin N. Muller
    • 1
  • Richard W. Wrangham
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Anthropology, MSC01-1040University of New MexicoAlbuquerqueUSA
  2. 2.Department of Human Evolutionary BiologyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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