International Journal of Primatology

, Volume 35, Issue 3–4, pp 746–763 | Cite as

Reproductive Competition Among Males in Multimale Groups of Primates: Modeling the Costs and Effectiveness of Conflict

  • Markus PortEmail author
  • Michael A. Cant


Multimale groups of primates are characterized by strong reproductive competition among males, generally resulting in an uneven division of male reproductive success (reproductive skew). The observed patterns of conflict and reproductive skew have often been attributed to the so-called tug-of-war model. We show, however, that two important assumptions of this model are not met in male primates. First, the tug-of-war model assumes that reproductive conflict reduces overall group productivity, but in male primates (and most other vertebrates) conflict likely involves mortality rather than fecundity costs. Second, the tug-of-war model does not account for the possibility that male primates can achieve some reproductive success without engagement in open conflict, such as when a single male cannot guard several receptive females at the same time. We therefore develop a dynamic version of the tug-of-war model, in which reproductive competition causes mortality costs, and in which individuals can gain uncontested shares of reproduction dependent on the degree of female receptive overlap. This model differs substantially from the original tug-of-war model, and derives a new and rich set of comparative predictions. For instance, it predicts that the level of conflict among males declines as the queuing success of subordinate males increases (as survival increases), and also, as their uncontested share of reproduction increases, e.g., as female receptive overlap increases. Our model shows how male–male conflict and female receptive overlap collectively determine the level of reproductive skew among male primates, and illustrates that this relationship is more complex than previously thought.


Queuing Priority of access Reproductive skew Social conflict Tug-of-war 



We thank Alexander Georgiev and Melissa Emery Thompson for inviting us to contribute to this special issue of International Journal of Primatology. We thank Rufus Johnstone, A. Georgiev, M. E. Thompson, Joanna Setchell, and three anonymous reviewers for valuable comments on this manuscript. M. Port was supported by a grant from the VolkswagenStiftung.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Courant Research Center Evolution of Social BehaviorUniversity of GöttingenGöttingenGermany
  2. 2.Centre for Ecology and Conservation, College of Life and Environmental SciencesUniversity of Exeter, Cornwall CampusPenrynUK

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