Mothers matter! Maternal support, dominance status and mating success in male bonobos (Pan paniscus)

Martin Surbeck, Roger Mundry, Gottfried Hohmann


Variation in male mating success is often related to rank differences. Males who are unable to monopolize oestrous females alone may engage in coalitions, thus enhancing their mating success. While studies on chimpanzees and dolphins suggest that coalitions are independent of kinship, information from female philopatric species shows the importance of kin support, especially from mothers, on the reproductive success of females. Therefore, one might expect a similar effect on sons in male philopatric species. We evaluate mating success determinants in male bonobos using data from nine male individuals from a wild population. Results reveal a steep, linear male dominance hierarchy and a positive correlation between dominance status and mating success. In addition to rank, the presence of mothers enhances the mating success of sons and reduces the proportion of matings by the highest ranking male. Mothers and sons have high association rates and mothers provide agonistic aid to sons in conflicts with other males. As bonobos are male-philopatric and adult females occupy high dominance status, maternal support extends into adulthood and females have the leverage to intervene in male conflicts. The absence of female support to unrelated males suggests that mothers gain indirect fitness benefits by supporting their sons.

  • Received July 23, 2010.
  • Accepted August 11, 2010.
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