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Roving females and patient males: a new perspective on the mating strategies of chimpanzees

Newton-Fisher, Nicholas E. (2014) Roving females and patient males: a new perspective on the mating strategies of chimpanzees. Biological Reviews, 89 (2). pp. 356-374. ISSN 1469-185X. (doi:10.1111/brv.12058) (KAR id:36359)


Mating strategies are sets of decisions aimed at maximizing reproductive success. For male animals, the fundamental problem that these strategies address is attaining mating access to females in a manner that maximizes their chances of achieving paternity. For chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), despite substantial interest in mating strategies, very little attention has been paid to the most fundamental problem that mating strategies need to solve: finding mates. Only a single model, Dunbar’s general model of male mating strategies, exists to explain mate-searching behaviour in chimpanzees. Under this model, males in most populations are regarded as pursuing a ‘roving’ strategy, searching for and sequestering fertile females who are essentially passive with respect to mate searching. The roving mating strategy is an assumption deeply embedded in the way chimpanzee behaviour is considered; it is implicit in the conventional model for chimpanzee social structure, which posits that male ranging functions both to monitor female reproductive state and to ward these females from other groups of males through collective territoriality: essentially, ranging as mating effort. This perspective is, however, increasingly at odds with observations of chimpanzee behaviour. Herein, I review the logic and evidence for the roving-male mating strategy and propose a novel alternative, a theoretical framework in which roving is a strategy pursued by female chimpanzees in order to engage successfully in promiscuous mating. Males, unable to thwart this female strategy, instead maximise the number of reproductive opportunities encountered by focusing their behaviour on countering threats to health, fertility and reproductive career. Their prolonged grooming bouts are seen, in consequence, as functioning to mitigate the negative impacts of socially induced physiological stress. In this new framework, the roving-male strategy becomes, at best, a ‘best of a bad job’ alternative for low-ranking males when faced with high levels of competition for mating access. Male chimpanzees do not search for mates, but for one another, for food, and, at times, for rivals in other communities. To the extent that female promiscuity functions to counter infanticide risk, mate searching by female chimpanzees—and any associated costs—can be seen as an unavoidable consequence of male sexual coercion. This novel framework is a better fit to the available data than is the conventional account. This review highlights the desperate need for additional work in an area of chimpanzee biology that has been somewhat neglected, perhaps in part because assumptions of roving males have remained unquestioned for too long. It also highlights the need, across taxa, to revisit and revise theory, and to test old assumptions, when faced with contrary data.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1111/brv.12058
Uncontrolled keywords: primate, Pan troglodytes, roving-male, reproductive strategy, sequestration, sexual conflict, alpha male, female choice, mate choice, alternate strategies
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
Q Science > QH Natural history > QH301 Biology
Q Science > QH Natural history > QH541 Ecology
Q Science > QL Zoology
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Anthropology and Conservation
Depositing User: Nicholas Newton-Fisher
Date Deposited: 14 Nov 2013 10:14 UTC
Last Modified: 09 Dec 2022 01:13 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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Newton-Fisher, Nicholas E..

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