International Journal of Primatology

, Volume 30, Issue 6, pp 791–806 | Cite as

Chest Color and Social Status in Male Geladas (Theropithecus gelada)

  • Thore J. Bergman
  • Lucy Ho
  • Jacinta C. Beehner


Conspicuous colored patches on animals often serve as sexually selected signals that advertise male quality. Such colored traits facilitate assessment of risks associated with a specific contest or benefits associated with a specific mate choice. Here, we investigate whether a colored patch of skin on the chests of male geladas (Theropithecus gelada) is a sexually selected signal. Specifically, we examine the relationship between color (redness), social status (a proxy for reproductive success), and age. We use observational data from known individuals from a population of wild geladas living in Ethiopia. We digitally quantified chest color using a previously-validated method for measuring color under field conditions. Results from this study are consistent with the hypothesis that redness is a quality signal in males. Baseline color correlates with status even when controlling for age. Indeed, males with redder chests were members of “better” groups: 1) leader males—the only males with reproductive access to females—had the reddest chests, and 2) within leader males, males with large units (>6 females) had redder chests than males with small units. At present, we are unable to address whether male chest color is directed at potential rivals or mates. Nevertheless, our data support the hypothesis that quality signals should prevail in large, fluid groups, where it is unlikely that individuals recognize all other group members. If individual recognition is limited in gelada society, this would favor the evolution of alternative means of assessment for making reproductive decisions.


chest patch coloration primate quality signal sexual selection Theropithecus 



First and foremost, we thank James Higham for extending the invitation to us to participate in the symposium on primate color. We also thank the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Department, the Amhara National Regional State Parks Development and Protection Authority, and the wardens and staff of the Simien Mountains National Park for granting us the permission to conduct this research. We thank H. Gelaye and A. LeRoux for their help with data collection in the field, and S. Rosinus, K. Shaw, and K. Weldman for their help in analyzing photos. Finally, we thank 2 anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of the manuscript. Funding was provided by the Wildlife Conservation Society (SSF grant no. 67250), the National Geographic Society (NGS grant no. 8100-06), the L.S.B. Leakey Foundation, the National Science Foundation (BCS-0715179), and the University of Michigan. This research was approved by the University Committee on Use and Care of Animals (UCUCA) at the University of Michigan and adhered to the laws and guidelines of Ethiopia.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thore J. Bergman
    • 1
  • Lucy Ho
    • 2
  • Jacinta C. Beehner
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Psychology and Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  3. 3.Department of Psychology and Department of AnthropologyUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

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