Dispersal and Integration in Female Chimpanzees

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Walker, Kara Kristina


Pusey, Anne

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In chimpanzees, most females disperse from the community in which they were born to reproduce in a new community, thereby eliminating the risk of inbreeding with close kin. However, across sites, some females breed in their natal community, raising questions about the flexibility of dispersal, the costs and benefits of different strategies and the mitigation of costs associated with dispersal and integration. In this dissertation I address these questions by combining long-term behavioral data and recent field observations on maturing and young adult females in Gombe National Park with an experimental manipulation of relationship formation in captive apes in the Congo.

To assess the risk of inbreeding for females who do and do not disperse, 129 chimpanzees were genotyped and relatedness between each dyad was calculated. Natal females were more closely related to adult community males than were immigrant females. By examining the parentage of 58 surviving offspring, I found that natal females were not more related to the sires of their offspring than were immigrant females, despite three instances of close inbreeding. The sires of all offspring were less related to the mothers than non-sires regardless of the mother’s residence status. These results suggest that chimpanzees are capable of detecting relatedness and that, even when remaining natal, females can largely avoid, though not eliminate, inbreeding.

Next, I examined whether dispersal was associated with energetic, social, physiological and/or reproductive costs by comparing immigrant (n=10) and natal (n=9) females of similar age using 2358 hours of observational data. Natal and immigrant females did not differ in any energetic metric. Immigrant females received aggression from resident females more frequently than natal females. Immigrants spent less time in social grooming and more time self-grooming than natal females. Immigrant females primarily associated with resident males, had more social partners and lacked close social allies. There was no difference in levels of fecal glucocorticoid metabolites in immigrant and natal females. Immigrant females gave birth 2.5 years later than natal females, though the survival of their first offspring did not differ. These results indicate that immigrant females in Gombe National Park do not face energetic deficits upon transfer, but they do enter a hostile social environment and have a delayed first birth.

Next, I examined whether chimpanzees use condition- and phenotype-dependent cues in making dispersal decisions. I examined the effect of social and environmental conditions present at the time females of known age matured (n=25) on the females’ dispersal decisions. Females were more likely to disperse if they had more male maternal relatives and thus, a high risk of inbreeding. Females with a high ranking mother and multiple maternal female kin tended to disperse less frequently, suggesting that a strong female kin network provides benefits to the maturing daughter. Females were also somewhat less likely to disperse when fewer unrelated males were present in the group. Habitat quality and intrasexual competition did not affect dispersal decisions. Using a larger sample of 62 females observed as adults in Gombe, I also detected an effect of phenotypic differences in personality on the female’s dispersal decisions; extraverted, agreeable and open females were less likely to disperse.

Natural observations show that apes use grooming and play as social currency, but no experimental manipulations have been carried out to measure the effects of these behaviors on relationship formation, an essential component of integration. Thirty chimpanzees and 25 bonobos were given a choice between an unfamiliar human who had recently groomed or played with them over one who did not. Both species showed a preference for the human that had interacted with them, though the effect was driven by males. These results support the idea that grooming and play act as social currency in great apes that can rapidly shape social relationships between unfamiliar individuals. Further investigation is needed to elucidate the use of social currency in female apes.

I conclude that dispersal in female chimpanzees is flexible and the balance of costs and benefits varies for each individual. Females likely take into account social cues present at maturity and their own phenotype in choosing a settlement path and are especially sensitive to the presence of maternal male kin. The primary cost associated with philopatry is inbreeding risk and the primary cost associated with dispersal is delay in the age at first birth, presumably resulting from intense social competition. Finally, apes may strategically make use of affiliative behavior in pursuing particular relationships, something that should be useful in the integration process.





Walker, Kara Kristina (2015). Dispersal and Integration in Female Chimpanzees. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/10509.


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