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Keywords:

  • Theropithecus;
  • infanticide;
  • infant death;
  • interbirth interval;
  • reproductive strategies

Abstract

Since Sugiyama's [1965] first observations of infanticide, empirical evidence from a multitude of primate species has supported the sexual selection hypothesis—the idea that males enhance their reproductive success by killing nonrelated, unweaned infants to hasten the mothers' return to fertility. Like other primates that live in social groups where paternity certainty is high, the social structure of geladas [Theropithecus gelada] suggests that infanticide by males could enhance their reproductive success. Nevertheless, empirical evidence for infanticide in this species is limited to anecdotal accounts. Using the timing of infant mortality and female reproductive and behavioral data collected across 26 months from a population of geladas living in the Simien Mountains National Park, Ethiopia, we test whether sexually selected infanticide occurs in this species. We also examine two additional hypotheses [noninfanticide hypothesis and generalized aggression hypothesis] for this population. Results suggest that sexually selected infanticide in geladas may, indeed, be a threat to females with dependent infants. First, male takeovers—the most likely time for infanticide—were associated with subsequently elevated rates of infant death [a 32-fold increase] comprising nearly 60% of all infant mortality. Second, females who lost infants during this period returned to fertility more quickly than if infants had lived [IBIs were 50% shorter], and third, all of these females were observed to mate with the new male. We found little to no support for other hypotheses. Finally, these results raise the possibility that anecdotal reports [from previous studies and this study] of pregnancy termination, accelerated weaning, and deceptive sexual swellings may represent female counterstrategies to male infanticide in geladas. Am. J. Primatol. 70:1152–1159, 2008. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.