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Using biological markets principles to examine patterns of grooming exchange in Macaca thibetana



Biological markets principles offer testable hypotheses to explain variation in grooming exchange patterns among nonhuman primates. They predict that when within-group contest competition (WGC) is high and dominance hierarchies steep, grooming interchange with other “commodity” behaviors (such as agonistic support) should prevail. In contrast, when WGC is low and gradients shallow, market theory predicts that grooming reciprocity should prevail. We tested these predictions in a wild, provisioned Tibetan macaque (Macaca thibetana) group across six time periods during which the group had been subjected to varying degrees of range restriction. Data on female–female aggression, grooming, and support were collected using all-occurrences and focal animal sampling techniques, and analyzed using ANCOVA methods and correlation analyses. We found that hierarchical steepness varied significantly across periods, but did not correlate with two indirect indicators of WGC (group size and range restriction) in predicted directions. Contrary to expectations, we found a negative correlation between steepness and group size, perhaps because the responses of group members to external risks (i.e. prolonged and unavoidable exposure to humans) may have overshadowed the effects of WGC. As predicted, grooming reciprocity was significant in each period and negatively correlated with steepness, even after we controlled group size, kinship, rank differences, and proximity. In contrast, there was no evidence for grooming interchange with agonistic support or for a positive relationship between interchange and steepness. We hypothesize that stressful conditions and/or the presence of stable hierarchies during each period may have led to a greater market demand for grooming than support. We suggest that future studies testing these predictions consider more direct measures of WGC and commodities in addition to support, such as feeding tolerance and access to infants. Am. J. Primatol. 73:1269–1279, 2011. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.