Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 68, Issue 2, pp 263–273 | Cite as

Sexual conflict in a polygynous primate: costs and benefits of a male-imposed mating system

  • Larissa Swedell
  • Liane Leedom
  • Julian Saunders
  • Mathew Pines
Original Paper


Fundamental reproductive interests dictate that females generally benefit most from mate selectivity and males from mate quantity. This can create conflict between the sexes and result in sexual coercion: male use of aggression to garner mating success at a cost to females. Potential fitness costs of sexual coercion, however, can be difficult to measure. Here, we demonstrate benefits to males and costs to females of female defense polygyny in wild hamadryas baboons, cercopithecoid primates in which females are coercively transferred among social units by males, restricting both female choice and bonding among female kin. Of all coercive transfers (takeovers) of females with young infants, 67 % were followed by infant mortality, which was significantly more likely to occur after takeovers than at other times. As expected, infant mortality decreased time to subsequent conception but lengthened intervals between surviving infants. Following infant survival, whether a female had experienced a takeover after the previous birth was a significant predictor of subsequent interbirth interval, with interbirth intervals of females remaining with the same male between births being significantly shorter than those of females incurring takeovers between births. Together, these results reveal that takeovers increase the chance of infant mortality while delaying subsequent conception. Male-driven female defense polygyny in this species is thus costly to females in two ways. These results demonstrate that reproductive strategies benefitting males can evolve despite substantial costs to females. These costs may be mitigated over the long term, however, by female counterstrategies and protective behavior by males.


Sexual selection Sexual coercion Infanticide Reproductive strategies Reproductive success Pseudoestrus 



This work was funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the Leakey Foundation, the National Geographic Society (grant number 8309-07), and the City University of New York PSC-CUNY Research Award Program. The Filoha Hamadryas Project is affiliated with the City University of New York, the New York Consortium in Evolutionary Primatology (NYCEP), the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority (EWCA), and the Awash National Park Baboon Research Project (ANPBRP), and we could not have conducted this research without their cooperation, permission, and assistance. We thank Amy Schreier, Brittany Davis, and Teklu Tesfaye for collecting data that contributed to this paper and Alexis Amann for assistance with data management. We are grateful to Demekech Woldearegay, Tariku Woldearegay, and Teklu Tesfaye for logistical support. In addition, we thank Joan Silk, Mark Hauber, Dietmar Zinner, Elise Huchard, and six anonymous reviewers for helpful feedback on previous versions of this manuscript. Finally, we thank the late Hans Kummer for his extraordinary life of research and contributions to our understanding of the behavioral biology of hamadryas baboons.

Ethical standards

All protocols described herein have been approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee of Queens College of the City University of New York. This research was conducted with permission of and following the guidelines of the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority of Ethiopia and in accordance with the laws of Ethiopia.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Larissa Swedell
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
    • 6
  • Liane Leedom
    • 5
  • Julian Saunders
    • 4
  • Mathew Pines
    • 4
  1. 1.Queens CollegeCity University of New YorkNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.New York Consortium in Evolutionary PrimatologyNew YorkUSA
  3. 3.University of Cape TownCape TownSouth Africa
  4. 4.Filoha Hamadryas ProjectMetaharaEthiopia
  5. 5.University of BridgeportBridgeportUSA
  6. 6.Department of Anthropology, Queens CollegeCUNYFlushingUSA

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