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Sexual coercion by male chimpanzees shows that female choice may be more apparent than real

Abstract

The extent to which active female mating preferences influence male reproductive success in mammals is unclear, particularly for promiscuously breeding species like chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). Previous studies from multiple long-term study sites have shown that female chimpanzees mate more restrictively around ovulation, and this has been taken as evidence for female choice. However, none of these studies rigorously evaluated the alternative hypothesis that restrictive mating results not from unconstrained choice, but in response to coercive mate guarding, in which males use punishment and intimidation to reduce female promiscuity and promote their own mating interests. Nor did they consider evidence for the potential genetic or phenotypic benefits that females might be choosing. Using 11 years of data from the Kanyawara community in Kibale National Park, Uganda, we previously demonstrated that males achieve elevated mating success with those females toward whom they direct high levels of aggression. Here we extend those findings to show that even female copulatory approaches, which have previously been attributed to female choice, are correlated with male aggression. Specifically, individual females at our site initiated periovulatory copulations most frequently with the males who were most aggressive toward them throughout their cycles. Those males showed high rates of aggression toward females throughout estrus, despite achieving high copulation rates, demonstrating a continuing conflict of interest over the exclusivity of mating access. Because sexual coercion is potentially widespread in primates and other mammals, our results stress the importance of considering the influence of male aggression in studies of female choice.

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Acknowledgments

Research at Kibale was supported by grants from the US National Science Foundation (awards 9807448 and 0416125), the L.S.B. Leakey Foundation, the National Geographic Society, and the Wenner-Gren Foundation. For sponsoring long-term research in Kibale National Park, we thank the Uganda Wildlife Authority and Makerere University Biological Field Station. We thank Gilbert Isabirye-Basuta, John Kasenene, and Jerry Lwanga for their continuing support, and Emily Otali for research oversight. For assistance in the field, we thank the late John Barwogeza, the late Joseph Basagara, Deo Kateeba, Christopher Katongole, Francis Mugurusi, the late Donor Muhangyi, the late Christopher Muruuli, Solomon Musana, Dennis Sebugwawo, and Peter Tuhairwe. Special thanks to Zarin Machanda for assistance with the KCP database.

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Correspondence to Martin N. Muller.

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Communicated by J. Silk

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Muller, M.N., Thompson, M.E., Kahlenberg, S.M. et al. Sexual coercion by male chimpanzees shows that female choice may be more apparent than real. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 65, 921–933 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-010-1093-y

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Keywords

  • Female choice
  • Sexual coercion
  • Coercive mate guarding
  • Mating preferences
  • Mixed mating strategy