Mountain gorillas maintain strong maternal affiliative biases despite high male reproductive skew and extensive exposure to paternal kin

  1. Nicholas Grebe  Is a corresponding author
  2. Jean Paul Hirwa
  3. Tara S Stoinski
  4. Linda Vigilant
  5. Stacy Rosenbaum
  1. University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, United States
  2. The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, Rwanda
  3. Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Germany

Abstract

Evolutionary theories predict that sibling relationships will reflect a complex balance of cooperative and competitive dynamics. In most mammals, dispersal and death patterns mean that sibling relationships occur in a relatively narrow window during development, and/or only with same-sex individuals. Besides humans, one notable exception are mountain gorillas, in which non-sex biased dispersal, relatively stable group composition, and the long reproductive tenures of alpha males mean that animals routinely reside with both maternally and paternally related siblings, of the same and opposite sex, throughout their lives. Using nearly 40,000 hours of behavioral data collected over 14 years on 699 sibling and 1235 non-sibling pairs of wild mountain gorillas, we demonstrate that individuals have strong affiliative preferences for full and maternal siblings over paternal siblings or unrelated animals, consistent with an inability to discriminate paternal kin. Intriguingly, however, aggression data imply the opposite. Aggression rates were statistically indistinguishable among all types of dyads except one: in mixed-sex dyads, non-siblings engaged in substantially more aggression than siblings of any type. This pattern suggests mountain gorillas may be capable of distinguishing paternal kin, but nonetheless choose not to affiliate with them over non-kin. We observe a preference for maternal kin in a species with high reproductive skew (i.e., high relatedness certainty), even though low reproductive skew (i.e., low relatedness certainty) is believed to underlie such biases in other non-human primates. Our results call into question reasons for strong maternal kin biases when paternal kin are identifiable, familiar, and similarly likely to be long-term groupmates, and they may also suggest behavioral mismatches at play during a transitional period in mountain gorilla society.

Data availability

All data and code necessary to reproduce our results are available publicly at https://osf.io/6qgj5.

The following data sets were generated

Article and author information

Author details

  1. Nicholas Grebe

    Department of Anthropology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, United States
    For correspondence
    ngrebe@umich.edu
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0003-1411-065X
  2. Jean Paul Hirwa

    Karisoke Research Center, The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, Musanze, Rwanda
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  3. Tara S Stoinski

    Karisoke Research Center, The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, Musanze, Rwanda
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  4. Linda Vigilant

    Department of Primatology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  5. Stacy Rosenbaum

    Department of Anthropology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-7576-5302

Funding

National Science Foundation (1122321)

  • Stacy Rosenbaum

Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund

  • Nicholas Grebe
  • Jean Paul Hirwa
  • Tara S Stoinski
  • Linda Vigilant
  • Stacy Rosenbaum

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.

Reviewing Editor

  1. Ammie K Kalan, University of Victoria, Canada

Version history

  1. Received: June 6, 2022
  2. Preprint posted: June 16, 2022 (view preprint)
  3. Accepted: September 21, 2022
  4. Accepted Manuscript published: September 22, 2022 (version 1)
  5. Version of Record published: October 3, 2022 (version 2)
  6. Version of Record updated: May 18, 2023 (version 3)

Copyright

© 2022, Grebe et al.

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.

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  1. Nicholas Grebe
  2. Jean Paul Hirwa
  3. Tara S Stoinski
  4. Linda Vigilant
  5. Stacy Rosenbaum
(2022)
Mountain gorillas maintain strong maternal affiliative biases despite high male reproductive skew and extensive exposure to paternal kin
eLife 11:e80820.
https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.80820

Share this article

https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.80820

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