Evolutionary Ecology

, Volume 21, Issue 5, pp 613–634 | Cite as

Fission–fusion social systems as a strategy for coping with ecological constraints: a primate case

  • Julia LehmannEmail author
  • Amanda H. Korstjens
  • R. I. M. Dunbar


Fission–fusion social systems, in which members of a social community form frequently changing subgroups, occur in a number of mammalian taxa. Such systems are assumed to be a response to the costs of grouping, but evidence to support this hypothesis is limited. We use a linear programming approach to build a time budget model that predicts the upper bound on group size in order to test the hypothesis that fission–fusion social systems are the outcome of time constraints. Comparative data from 14 wild chimpanzee (Pan spp.) populations are used to derive a set of equations defining the relationship between climatic variables and time budget components, which are then used to calculate the upper limits on group size that can be maintained in different habitats. We validate the model by showing that it correctly predicts the presence/absence of chimpanzees across sub-Saharan Africa and the group sizes observed in natural populations. The model suggests that the costs of travel are limiting for chimpanzees. Chimpanzees can reduce these costs dramatically by fissioning their bonded communities into small foraging parties. If they did not, they would be unable to live in any habitats where they currently occur.


Time budget model Chimpanzees Fission–fusion Biogeography Group size 



JL is funded by the British Academy Centenary Research Project and AHK by a project grant from the Leverhulme Trust. RIMD is supported by a British Academy Research Professorship. We would also like to thank colleagues who provided us with further details on chimpanzee time budget data, Hjalmar Kuehl for his help with forest cover data and Guy Cowlishaw for helpful comments on the manuscript. The in-depth analysis we did would not have been possible without the generosity of Cort Willmott and Kenji Matsuura from the University of Delaware. We also thank Stephen Blake and Nigel Hunter (ICNN) for the bonobo dataset at DRC, and Noelle Kumpel, Imperial College London/Zoological Society of London, for some unpublished data on chimpanzees in Equatorial Guinea.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Julia Lehmann
    • 1
    Email author
  • Amanda H. Korstjens
    • 2
  • R. I. M. Dunbar
    • 1
  1. 1.British Academy Centenary Research Project, School of Biological SciencesUniversity of LiverpoolLiverpoolUK
  2. 2.School of Conservation SciencesBournemouth UniversityPooleUK

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