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Keywords:

  • Macaca sylvanus;
  • copulations;
  • ovarian cycle;
  • fecal hormones;
  • ovulation;
  • fertile phase

Abstract

Although all macaques have a multimale multifemale mating system, the degree of promiscuity shown by the Barbary macaque is considered to be extreme in terms of both mating frequency and number of mating partners. How mating activity is distributed throughout the female menstrual cycle and whether or not copulations are concentrated around the fertile phase as in other members of the genus is, however, not known. To examine this, we collected data on rates of copulation throughout 29 ovarian cycles from 13 free-ranging females of the Gibraltar Barbary macaque population and related them to the time of ovulation and the female fertile phase as determined from fecal hormone analysis. In addition, patterns of male inspection of females and time spent in consortship, both indicators of female attractivity, were also analyzed. The results indicate that both mating behavior and female attractivity vary predictably with ovarian cycle stage. Rates of copulation were found to increase toward the time of ovulation, with a distinct peak of ejaculatory (but not non-ejaculatory) copulations occurring in the fertile phase. Additionally, we show that frequency of inspection of females by males and time spent in consortship were also highest during the fertile phase and that ejaculatory copulations and male pericopulatory behaviors were significantly correlated with levels of female sex hormones. Our findings indicate that the Barbary macaque shows a mating pattern during the cycle similar to that described for other members of the genus. More importantly, however, our study provides clear evidence that despite an extreme degree of promiscuity Barbary macaque males concentrate their reproductive effort to the fertile phase, implying that they are able to discern this period and that thus timing of ovulation is not concealed from them. Estrogen-related cues appear to be involved in the process of recognition of female reproductive status by males, but the exact nature of these cues and how male Barbary macaques use them remains to be clarified. Am. J. Primatol. 70:44–53, 2008. © 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.