• bonobo;
  • formal dominance;
  • captivity


It has been suggested that peering behavior in bonobos is a formal signal acknowledging social dominance status. We investigated whether peering meets the published criteria for a formal signal of subordination in five captive groups of bonobos. The degree of linearity in the set of peering relationships was significantly high in all study groups, and a linear rank order was found. However, unidirectionality was low, and there was little correspondence between the peering order and the agonistic dominance rank. Therefore, peering does not satisfy the criteria of a formal subordination indicator. We also studied the relation between peering and agonistic dominance rank, age, and sex. Animals directed peering significantly more often at high-ranking animals in four of the groups. We suggest that peering is indirectly related to dominance rank by the resource-holding potential of individuals. In contexts where dominant individuals can monopolize resources, peerers may direct their attention at those high-ranking animals. When resources are distributed more evenly, high-ranking animals may peer down the hierarchy. We speculate on the reasons why a formal dominance or subordination signal appears to be absent in bonobos. Am. J. Primatol. 65:255–267, 2005. © 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.