Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 68, Issue 11, pp 1829–1841 | Cite as

Predictors of food-related aggression in wild Assamese macaques and the role of conflict avoidance

  • Marlies HeesenEmail author
  • Sebastian Rogahn
  • Sally Macdonald
  • Julia Ostner
  • Oliver Schülke
Original Paper


The quality, availability and distribution of food resources and their influence on types and levels of feeding competition play a central role in ecological models of female social structure in mammals. Here, we investigate the impact of social and ecological factors on rates of food-related aggression and the use of potential conflict avoidance mechanisms in wild Assamese macaques (Macaca assamensis) in northeastern Thailand. These questions were addressed by examining feeding competition at the level of individual food patches which provides detailed information on resource characteristics, aggression and feeding party composition. Results suggest that the frequency of aggression in food patches increases with increasing feeding group size and decreasing patch size but is not affected by ecological variables representing resource value (abundance and nutritional value of food items in a patch). Interestingly, females appear to employ several mechanisms to avoid direct conflicts, including the use of alternative feeding sites within food patches, delayed arrival at feeding sites, storing food in cheek pouches and co-feeding with individuals they share strong social bonds with. Conflict avoidance may be partially responsible for the absence of a rank-related skew in female energy intake in this population and may explain other cases where empirical data do not fit the predictions of socio-ecological theory. Our findings also inform the debate about the mechanisms generating fitness benefits from strong social bonds by suggesting that by increasing feeding tolerance, social bonds may enhance resource acquisition, reduce the risk of injuries and lower levels of agonism-related stress.


Aggression Feeding competition Assamese macaque Socio-ecology Social bonds Cheek pouch use 



We thank the National Research Council of Thailand (NRCT) and the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) for permission (nos. 0004.3/3618 and 0002.3/2647) to conduct this study. We are grateful to J. Prabnasuk, K. Nitaya, M. Kumsuk and K. Kreetiyutanont (Phu Khieo Wildlife Sanctuary) for their cooperation and permission to carry out this research. We thank A. Koenig and C. Borries (Stony Brook University), who developed the field site at Huai Mai Sot Yai. We are very thankful to N. Juntuch, N. Ponganan, D. Bootros, S. Jomhlotwong, T. Kilawit, T. Wisate, P. Saisawatdikul and especially M. Swagemakers for their help in the field. We are also very grateful to W. Nuagchiy and A. Chunchaen for their help with data collection. We thank N. Bhumpakphan, W. Eiadthong (Kasetsart University) and W. Brockelman (Mahidol University) for their support and cooperation. Furthermore, we would like to thank Maria van Noordwijk and four anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript. This work was supported by the Max Planck Society and the University of Göttingen through funding from the German Initiative of Excellence.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical standards

Approval and permission to conduct research was granted by the authorities of Thailand (permit no. 0004.3/3618 and 0002.3/2647), and all research was undertaken in strict accordance with the laws set forth by the National Research Council of Thailand and the regulations of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, Bangkok, as well as the guidelines of the involved institutes.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marlies Heesen
    • 1
    Email author
  • Sebastian Rogahn
    • 1
  • Sally Macdonald
    • 1
  • Julia Ostner
    • 1
  • Oliver Schülke
    • 2
  1. 1.Primate Social Evolution Group, Courant Research Centre Evolution of Social BehaviourGeorg-August University GöttingenGöttingenGermany
  2. 2.Courant Research Centre Evolution of Social BehaviourGeorg-August University GöttingenGöttingenGermany

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