Proximate and ultimate causes of reproductive suppression among female yellow baboons at Mikumi National Park, Tanzania



Attack coalitions, whereby two or more individuals attack another animal simultaneously, were studied in 53 sexually mature female baboons from one small and two large troops at Mikumi National Park, Tanzania. For 14 months, three observers recorded coalition behavior throughout the day, using focal group sampling on a behavior-dependent basis. Coalition rates were considerably greater in the two large troops than in the small troop, and primarily involved natal females rather than males. Coalition frequencies corresponded closely to measures of reproductive synchrony, both within and between troops. Involvement in attack coalition behavior depended on the reproductive states and ranks of both attackers and recipients. The first few females to give birth in the cohort received particularly high amounts of coalition aggression just before and immediately after giving birth. Receipt of attack coalitions was significantly associated with an increased number of cycles to conception and longer interbirth intervals, as well spontaneous abortion, premature birth, and prolonged gestation. A parallel study on survivorship patterns of immature baboons at Mikumi provided evidence for ultimate cause of the observed coalition patterns. These combined results suggest that attack coalition behavior is a form of reproductive competition whereby females attempt to suppress the reproduction of others at predictably competitive times and thereby reduce the competition their own infants face from the time they are weaned.