Chest Color and Social Status in Male Geladas (Theropithecus gelada)
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- Bergman, T.J., Ho, L. & Beehner, J.C. Int J Primatol (2009) 30: 791. doi:10.1007/s10764-009-9374-x
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Conspicuous colored patches on animals often serve as sexually selected signals that advertise male quality. Such colored traits facilitate assessment of risks associated with a specific contest or benefits associated with a specific mate choice. Here, we investigate whether a colored patch of skin on the chests of male geladas (Theropithecus gelada) is a sexually selected signal. Specifically, we examine the relationship between color (redness), social status (a proxy for reproductive success), and age. We use observational data from known individuals from a population of wild geladas living in Ethiopia. We digitally quantified chest color using a previously-validated method for measuring color under field conditions. Results from this study are consistent with the hypothesis that redness is a quality signal in males. Baseline color correlates with status even when controlling for age. Indeed, males with redder chests were members of “better” groups: 1) leader males—the only males with reproductive access to females—had the reddest chests, and 2) within leader males, males with large units (>6 females) had redder chests than males with small units. At present, we are unable to address whether male chest color is directed at potential rivals or mates. Nevertheless, our data support the hypothesis that quality signals should prevail in large, fluid groups, where it is unlikely that individuals recognize all other group members. If individual recognition is limited in gelada society, this would favor the evolution of alternative means of assessment for making reproductive decisions.