Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 44, Issue 1, pp 43–55 | Cite as

Coalitionary mate guarding by male chimpanzees at Ngogo, Kibale National Park, Uganda

  • David P. Watts
Original article


Cooperative mate guarding by males is unusual in mammals and birds, largely because fertilizations are non-shareable. Chimpanzees live in fission-fusion communities that have cores of philopatric males who cooperate in inter-group aggression and in defending access to the females in their community. Male contest mating competition is restrained within communities, but single high-ranking males sometimes try to mate guard estrous females. Data from an unusually large chimpanzee commmunity at Ngogo, Kibale National Park, Uganda, that contains more males than any previously studied community show new variation in chimpanzee mate-guarding behavior. Contrary to expectation given the large number of males, mate guarding was as common as, or more common than, at other sites, and males other than the alpha male guarded more often. More strikingly, pairs or trios of top-ranking males sometimes engaged in cooperative aggression to prevent estrous females from mating with other males, but tolerated each other's mating activities. Both single males and coalitions mostly guarded periovulatory females. Mate-guarding coalitions were previously unknown in chimpanzees. Coalitions occurred in large mating parties, seemingly because these often contained too many males for single males to maintain exclusive access to estrous females. Coalition members gained higher shares of copulations than they could have expected from solo mate guarding, and suffered lower per capita costs of guarding (as inferred from aggression rates). Two males who most often participated in coalitions formed two-male coalitions at about the point where the number of males present made it unlikely that either could get 50% or more of total copulations on his own, and formed trios when this value dropped below 33%. Kin selection could be a factor in cooperation among male chimpanzees, but coalition members were not necessarily close relatives and the apparent structure of payoffs fit that of mutualism. Furthermore, reliance of male chimpanzees on support from allies to maintain high rank could have led to trading of mating exclusivity for support against mating competitors.

Key words Chimpanzees   Coalitions   Cooperation    Mate guarding   Aggression 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • David P. Watts
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Anthropology, Yale University, PO Box 208277, New Haven, CT 06520, USA e-mail:, Tel.: +1-203-4323700, Fax: +1-203-4323669US

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