Effect of ancestry on behavioral variation in two species of howler monkeys (Alouatta pigra and A. palliata) and their hybrids



Social differences between primate species may result from both flexible responses to current conditions or fixed differences across taxa, yet we know little about the relative importance of these factors. Here, we take advantage of a naturally occurring hybrid zone in Tabasco, Mexico to characterize the variation in social structure among two endangered howler monkey species, Alouatta pigra and A. palliata, and their hybrids. Work in pure populations has suggested that A. pigra females maintain closer proximity, exhibit higher rates of affiliation, and lower rates of agonism than A. palliata females, but we do not know what accounts for this difference. Using identical data collection and analysis methods across three populations, we first seek to confirm previously reported interspecific differences in social structure across all sexes. We next examine: (1) how female social relationships changed with ancestry (by comparing pure and hybrid individuals); (2) how female social relationships changed with group size (A. pigra have smaller groups than A. palliata); and (3) whether female social relationships differed between two taxonomic groups within a single forest fragment (thus controlling for ecological variation). We confirmed previously described species differences, including closer proximity among females than among males in all populations. We also found that smaller groups maintained closer proximity. However, even after accounting for variation in group size, A. pigra females had closer proximity and more affiliation than A. palliata females. Furthermore, differences between pigra-like and palliata-like hybrids paralleled differences between pure populations and persisted even after controlling for ecological variation. Together, our results suggest that flexibility cannot account for all of the social differences between A. pigra and A. palliata and indicate an important genetic component in primate social behavior. Am. J. Primatol. 76:855–867, 2014. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.