Social structure and life-history patterns in western gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla)



Life-history traits and ecological conditions have an important influence on primate social systems. Most of what we know about the life-history patterns and social structure of gorillas comes from studies of eastern gorillas (Gorilla beringei sp.), which live under dramatically different ecological conditions compared to western gorillas (Gorilla gorilla sp.). In this paper we present new data on western gorilla social structure and life histories from four study sites, and make comparisons with eastern gorilla populations. Data were obtained from two study sites with gorilla groups undergoing the habituation process (Lossi, Democratic Republic of Congo and Bai Hokou, Central African Republic) and two “bai” studies (Maya Nord and Mbeli Bai, Republic of Congo). The size and structure of these groups were similar to those seen in eastern gorillas. However, differences in the occurrence of various group transitions (group formations, changes between one-male and multimale composition, and group disintegrations) exist, and western gorillas notably exhibit much higher rates of male emigration and correspondingly fewer multimale groups compared to mountain gorillas. Certain phenomena have been observed only rarely, including predation by leopards. The preliminary data show no significant differences in birth rates between western gorillas and mountain gorillas. The ecological variability across gorilla habitats likely explains the flexibility in the social system of gorillas, but we need more information on the social relationships and ecology of western gorillas to elucidate the causes for the similarities and differences between western and eastern gorillas on the levels of individuals, social groups, and population dynamics. Am. J. Primatol. 64:145–159, 2004. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.