Grooming reciprocity in male Tibetan macaques

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Department or Administrative Unit

Primate Behavior and Ecology

Publication Date



In several primate species, adult males are reported to compete for access to reproductive partners as well as forming affiliative and cohesive social bonds based on the exchange of goods or services. We hypothesized that among a broad set of fitness‐maximizing strategies, grooming can be used by individual adult males to enhance social relationships through reciprocity and/or through the interchange of grooming for a different but equivalent good or service. We used focal animal sampling and continuously recorded dyadic grooming and agonistic interactions to test a series of predictions regarding male social interactions in a free‐ranging group of Tibetan macaques (Macaca thibetana) at Huangshan, China. During the non‐mating season or between males of similar rank throughout the year, grooming effort given was matched by grooming effort received. However, lower ranking males groomed higher ranking males at a greater rate and/or for a longer duration during both the mating and non‐mating periods. We found that higher ranking males directed less aggression towards males with whom they formed a frequent grooming partnership, indicating that grooming received was interchanged for increased social tolerance. These data suggest that individual male Tibetan macaques employ alternative social strategies associated with grooming reciprocity or interchange depending on dominance rank and rates of aggression, and highlight the importance of both biological markets and grooming reciprocity as behavioral mechanisms used by resident adult males to form and maintain affiliative social bonds.


This article was originally published in American Journal of Primatology. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

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American Journal of Primatology


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