Breaking the succession rule: the costs and benefits of an alpha-status take-over by an immigrant rhesus macaque on Cayo Santiago

In: Behaviour

Explaining intraspecific variation in reproductive tactics hinges on measuring associated costs and benefits. Yet, this is difficult if alternative (purportedly less optimal) tactics remain unobserved. We describe a rare alpha-position take-over by an immigrant male rhesus macaque in a population where males typically gain rank via succession. Unusually, male aggressiveness after the take-over correlated with rank and mating success. The new alpha achieved the highest mating and reproductive success. Nevertheless, he sired only 4 infants due to high extra-group paternity (59.3%). The costs of his immigration tactic were high: after the mating season ended, unable to deter coalitionary attacks by resident males, he was overthrown. The following year he had the highest relative annual weight loss and levels of immune activation among males in the group. Succession-based rank-acquisition in large, provisioned groups of macaques thus appears to be actively maintained by resident males, who impose high costs on challengers.

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