Coalitions in theory and reality: a review of pertinent variables and processes

in Behaviour
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Coalitions and alliances are ubiquitous in humans and many other mammals, being part of the fabric of complex social systems. Field biologists and ethologists have accumulated a vast amount of data on coalition and alliance formation, while theoretical biologists have developed modelling approaches. With the accumulation of empirical data and sophisticated theory, we are now potentially able to answer a host of questions about how coalitions emerge and are maintained in a population over time, and how the psychology of this type of cooperation evolved. Progress can only be achieved, however, by effectively bridging the communication gap that currently exists between empiricists and theoreticians. In this paper, we aim to do so by asking three questions: (1) What are the primary questions addressed by theoreticians interested in coalition formation, and what are the main building blocks of their models? (2) Do empirical observations support the assumptions of current models, and if not, how can we improve this situation? (3) Has theoretical work led to a better understanding of coalition formation, and what are the most profitable lines of inquiry for the future? Our overarching goal is to promote the integration of theoretical and field biology by motivating empirical scientists to collect data on aspects of coalition formation that are currently poorly quantified and to encourage theoreticians to develop a comprehensive theory of coalition formation that is testable under real-world conditions.

Coalitions in theory and reality: a review of pertinent variables and processes

in Behaviour



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  • View in gallery

    Examples of primate coalitions. (a) Three adult male chimpanzees on the left unite against the male on the right. Photograph by John Mitani. (b) A Barbary macaque male counter-attacks a coalition of two older males. Photograph by Annie Bissonnette. (c) White-faced capuchin monkeys stack on top of each other in an ‘overlord’ while both threaten a third monkey. Photograph by Susan Perry. (d) Yanomami men prepare for a raid on a neighbouring community. Photograph by Napoleon Chagnon.


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