The evolution of social bonds in primate males

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Social bonds, here defined as strong, equitable and enduring social relationships, increase fitness in both male and female primates irrespective of their dispersal regime. Despite the benefits they carry for some, social bonds evolved more often among female than among male primates which is thought to be caused by the unsharable nature of males’ limiting resource, fertilizations. Here we present a structured review of variation in primate male social relationships, mating systems, and social organization. In addition to classical socio-ecological reasoning and recent models on the evolution of male coalitions, we consider the phylogenetic history of species living in multi-male groups and alternative evolutionary routes to male co-residency, which may constrain the evolution of male social bonds in some cases. We summarize our results in a conceptual framework that represents the effects of male contest competition within and between groups on male social organization, affiliation and cooperation. We conclude that male social bonds evolved as long-term alliances that gain their adaptive function in within group contests and, thus, that the evolution of male social bonds is driven by variation in within group contest competition. Between group contest competition may select for large male group size but in the end it is the narrow window of medium to low within group contest competition that promotes the evolution of political coalitions and thus is responsible for the rarity of social bonds among primate males.

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    Schematic representation of the effects of contest competition (a) within groups (WGC) and (b) between groups (BGC) on social organization (male co-residency), male affiliation and cooperative behavior. Multimale groups may evolve in response to reduced WGC, increased BGC or high floater density. The arrows between multi-male and single-male groups indicate that back and forth transitions between these social organization types are possible (see Shultz et al., 2011), but (indicated by the dashed arrow) the transition from multi-male back to single-male groups may be hampered (as proposed for chacma baboons; Henzi & Barrett, 2003). Affiliative relationships may evolve under reduced WGC or increased BGC. Only if WGC is medium to low, social bonds will form irrespective of the degree of BGC, i.e., WGC effects will outweigh BGC effects. Only if WGC is absent will BGC lead to the evolution of affiliative relationships that are either undifferentiated or distinguishable between classes of males, e.g. by relatedness.

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