Hylobatid communities: Changing views on pair bonding and social organization in hominoids

Document Type


Department or Administrative Unit

Primate Behavior and Ecology

Publication Date



Social organization involving pair bonding and two‐adult groups is rare in mammals. Current sociobiological theory suggests that this grouping and behavior pattern is somewhat anomalous. The gibbons (genus Hylobates) are the only hominoids to exhibit pair bonds and two‐adult groups. In this article I present an overview of the current issues in monogamy and pair‐bond theory, and review traditional conceptualizations and the accumulated data relevant to gibbon social organization. The significance of hominoid behavioral phylogeny and population‐wide studies is also considered.

Recent findings indicate that pair‐bonding and two‐adult groups are not ubiquitous among the hylobatids. Many aspects of gibbon behavior and ecology do not conform to expectations of the conditions under which two‐adult groups and/or pair‐bonding patterns should evolve. A review of the information available from long‐term and short‐term studies of gibbons suggests an alternative way of viewing their socioecology. I propose that gibbons currently exist in variable communities that have arisen via ecological pressures and specific behavioral patterns from an ancestral multimale/multi‐female grouping pattern. This social organization is not best characterized as “monogamous.” This review also suggests that hominoid grouping patterns can be viewed as occurring along a continuum rather than as being discretely different units.


This article was originally published in Yearbook of Physical Anthropology. The full-text article from the publisher can be found 3.0.CO;2-D" >here.

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Yearbook of Physical Anthropology


© 2000 Wiley‐Liss, Inc.