Male-directed infanticide in spider monkeys (Ateles spp.)
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Infanticide is considered a conspicuous expression of sexual conflict amongst mammals, including at least 35 primate species. Here we describe two suspected and one attempted case of intragroup infanticide in spider monkeys that augment five prior cases of observed or suspected infanticide in this genus. Contrary to the typical pattern of infanticide seen in most primate societies, where infants are killed by conspecifics independent of their sex, all eight cases of observed or suspected infanticide in spider monkeys have been directed toward male infants within their first weeks of life. Moreover, although data are still scant, infanticides seem to be perpetrated exclusively by adult males against infants from their own social groups and are not associated with male takeovers or a sudden rise in male dominance rank. Although the slow reproductive cycles of spider monkeys might favor the presence of infanticide because of the potential to shorten females’ interbirth intervals, infanticide is nonetheless uncommon among spider monkeys, and patterns of male-directed infanticide are not yet understood. We suggest that given the potentially close genetic relationships among adult males within spider monkey groups, and the need for males to cooperate with one another in territorial interactions with other groups of related males, infanticide may be expected to occur primarily where the level of intragroup competition among males outweighs that of competition between social groups. Finally, we suggest that infanticide in spider monkeys may be more prevalent than previously thought, given that it may be difficult for observers to witness cases of infanticide or suspected infanticide that occur soon after birth in taxa that are characterized by high levels of fission–fusion dynamics. Early, undetected, male-biased infanticide could influence the composition of spider monkey groups and contribute to the female-biased adult sex ratios often reported for this genus.