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Socioecology considers that the features of food sources affect female social relationships in group-living species. Among primates, the tests of socioecological models are largely focused on Old World species and do not evaluate if the use of feeding tools affects the competitive regime over food and females’ relations in wild populations. We studied female social relationships among a wild population of bearded capuchins monkeys (Sapajus libidinosus) that use percussive tools (stones) to crack encased foods, in a semi-arid habitat in Brazil. Females fed mainly on clumped, high quality resources, indicating that the habitat provides a high quality diet year-round. Females experienced contest competition within and between-groups. As predicted by socioecological models, females’ social relationships were characterized by philopatry, linear dominance hierarchies, coalitions, and tolerance in feeding bouts. Females spent a small proportion of their feeding time using tools. Nevertheless, tool sites generated high rates of contest competition and lower indices of tolerance among females. Although the social structure of our study population did not differ significantly from the pattern observed in wild populations of Sapajus that do not use tools, tool use increased within-group contest competition and apparently contributed to the linearity of the dominance hierarchies established among females. We predict that when tool use results in usurpable food resources, it will increase contest competition within group-living species.

In: Behaviour