Female reproductive strategies in orangutans, evidence for female choice and counterstrategies to infanticide in a species with frequent sexual coercion

Cheryl Denise Knott, Melissa Emery Thompson, Rebecca M. Stumpf, Matthew H. McIntyre

Abstract

Intersexual conflicts over mating can engender antagonistic coevolution of strategies, such as coercion by males and selective resistance by females. Orangutans are exceptional among mammals for their high levels of forced copulation. This has typically been viewed as an alternative mating tactic used by the competitively disadvantaged unflanged male morph, with little understanding of how female strategies may have shaped and responded to this behaviour. Here, we show that male morph is not by itself a good predictor of mating dynamics in wild Bornean orangutans but that female conception risk mediated the occurrence and quality of male–female interactions. Near ovulation, females mated cooperatively only with prime flanged males who they encountered at higher rates. When conception risk was low, willingness to associate and mate with non-prime males increased. Our results support the hypothesis that, together with concealed ovulation, facultative association is a mechanism of female choice in a species in which females can rarely avoid coercive mating attempts. Female resistance, which reduced copulation time, may provide an additional mechanism for mate selection. However, coercive factors were also important as prime males were frequently aggressive to females and females used mating strategies consistent with infanticide avoidance.

Footnotes

    • Received August 27, 2009.
    • Accepted September 11, 2009.
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