Chimpanzee females queue but males compete for social status

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© 2016 Author(s).Dominance hierarchies are widespread in animal social groups and often have measureable effects on individual health and reproductive success. Dominance ranks are not static individual attributes, however, but instead are influenced by two independent processes: 1) changes in hierarchy membership and 2) successful challenges of higher-ranking individuals. Understanding which of these processes dominates the dynamics of rank trajectories can provide insights into fitness benefits of within-sex competition. This question has yet to be examined systematically in a wide range of taxa due to the scarcity of long-term data and a lack of appropriate methodologies for distinguishing between alternative causes of rank changes over time. Here, we expand on recent work and develop a new likelihood-based Elo rating method that facilitates the systematic assessment of rank dynamics in animal social groups, even when interaction data are sparse. We apply this method to characterize long-term rank trajectories in wild eastern chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) and find remarkable sex differences in rank dynamics, indicating that females queue for social status while males actively challenge each other to rise in rank. Further, our results suggest that natal females obtain a head start in the rank queue if they avoid dispersal, with potential fitness benefits.


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Foerster, S, M Franz, CM Murray, IC Gilby, JT Feldblum, KK Walker and AE Pusey (2016). Chimpanzee females queue but males compete for social status. Scientific Reports, 6. 10.1038/srep35404 Retrieved from

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Joseph T. Feldblum

Assistant Research Professor in the Department of Evolutionary Anthropology

Anne Pusey

James B. Duke Distinguished Professor Emerita of Evolutionary Anthropology

I have recently retired and am not taking on new students although I am continuing some research projects.  I am interested in understanding the evolution of sociality, social structure, and the patterns of competition, cooperation and social bonds in animal species, including humans. Most of my work has focused on social mammals: lions and chimpanzees. For the last twenty five years I have worked almost exclusively on the long term Gombe chimpanzee project. I have gathered the data from this study into an archive, currently housed at Duke, and I oversee the computerization of systematically collected daily data, incorporating this and related material into a relational database. I also advise on the ongoing field study at Gombe. Combined analysis of the long-term data and focused new data collection in the field enables study of a wide variety of questions. Current projects in my research group include studies of female social relationships and female settlement patterns. We also participate in collaborative work with colleagues at a number of other institutions on studies of life history, personality, and health, including studying the natural history of SIVcpz.

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