How social networking helps male chimps get sex

Duke University study shows ability to transcend 'coalitions' translates into mating success


People often say that "you are judged by who you associate with." It appears that message also resonates among our fellow great apes, the chimpanzees. Maybe that shouldn't be a surprise. After all, the chimps are right below humans on the evolutionary ladder -- many still use BlackBerries -- so they've worked out similar social structures and status hierarchies. For example, like male humans, male chimps learn to form "coalitions" in order to direct aggression at other male chimpanzees and exert dominance. In the chimp (as well as the human) world, dominance equals more sex. So not only do the most dominant male chimps (and humans) have more "mating" opportunities, members of the most successful coalitions also score more (roadies). But you don't have to go all "alpha" to enjoy the benefits of a dominant lifestyle, as many a personable guy (and chimp, if they could talk) will tell you. A new study by Ian Gilby at Duke University in North Carolina finds that "male chimpanzees with central positions in the coalitionary network were most likely to father offspring and increase in rank. Specifically, those who formed coalitions with males who did not form coalitions with each other were the most successful." Wait, what? "Central positions in the coalitionary network"? Here's an explanation from a press release by the Springer journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology:

Gilby and his colleagues studied data from wild chimpanzees gathered over 14 years from the Kasekela community in Gombe National Park in Tanzania. They wanted to test the hypothesis that male coalitionary aggression leads to positive benefits via increased dominance rank and improved reproductive success. Of the four measures they used to characterize a male's coalitionary behavior, the only one that was related to both of these factors was "betweenness" -- a measure of social network centrality -– which reflects the tendency to make coalitions with other males who did not form coalitions with each other. The only non-alpha males to sire offspring were males that had the highest "betweenness" scores. These males were also more likely to increase in rank, which is associated with higher reproductive success.

In other words, the chimps with the highest "betweenness" rating were like the popular kid in high school who transcended cliques, or a politician who successfully forges bonds with the financial, labor and religious communities. It all adds up to a winning campaign and a steady stream of mistresses. Gilby and his fellow researchers say the study results would indicate that "male chimpanzees may recognize the value of making the 'right' social connections." Let's just hope the chimps keep it real and don't get too carried away trying to prove their social status, like some other great apes I could mention. The world doesn't need members of another species touting their Klout scores. Now read this:

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