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Primate Behavior and Ecology

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Hierarchical steepness, defined as status asymmetries among conspecifics living in the same group, is not only used as a main characteristic of animal social relationships, but also represents the degree of discrepancy between supply and demand within the framework of biological market theory. During September and December 2011, we studied hierarchical steepness by comparing variation in grooming patterns in two groups of Tibetan macaques (Macaca thibetana), a primate species characterized by a linear dominance hierarchy. Using a focal sampling method, we collected behavioral data from two provisioned, free-ranging groups (YA1 and YA2) at Mt. Huangshan, China. We found that female dominance hierarchies were steeper in the YA1 group (0.81 based on the proportion of wins-losses and 0.66 based on dyadic dominance indices) than among members of the YA2 group (0.76 based on the proportion of wins-losses and 0.56 based on dyadic dominance indices). Females in the YA1 group groomed more frequently and for longer duration than females in YA2. Further analysis showed that grooming patterns of high- and low-ranking females did not differ between the two groups. However, middle-ranking females in YA1 groomed conspecifics more frequently and for longer duration than middle-ranking females in YA2. Our results suggest that the steepness of a dominance hierarchy plays an important role in the set of social strategies used by middle-ranking females to avoid a reduction in rank, as well as to increase their rank (the dilemma of middle class hypothesis). We suggest that future studies focus on individuals of middle-rank in order to better understand how the dynamics of rank stability and rank changes influence social relationships, and affiliative and competitive interactions in non-human primates.


This article was originally published Open Access in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.


​Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


Copyright © 2021 Xia, Wang, Garber, Sun, Sheeran, Sun and Li.