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Variability in the developmental life history of the genus Gorilla


Correspondence to: Dr. Tara Stoinski, Zoo Atlanta, 800 Cherokee Avenue, Atlanta, GA 30315. E-mail:


Life history is influenced by factors both intrinsic (e.g., body and relative brain size) and extrinsic (e.g., diet, environmental instability) to organisms. In this study, we examine the prediction that energetic risk influences the life history of gorillas. Recent comparisons suggest that the more frugivorous western lowland gorilla shows increased infant dependence, and thus a slower life history, than the primarily folivorous mountain gorilla to buffer against the risk of starvation during periods of food unpredictability. We further tested this hypothesis by incorporating additional life history data from wild western lowland gorillas and captive western lowland gorillas with the assumption that the latter live under ecological conditions of energetic risk that more closely resemble those of mountain gorillas and thus should show faster life histories than wild members of the species. Overall, we found captive western lowland and wild mountain gorillas to have faster developmental life histories than wild western lowland gorillas, weaning their infants approximately a year earlier and thus reducing interbirth intervals by a year. These results provide support that energetic risk plays an important role in determining gorilla life history. Unlike previous assertions, gorillas do not have substantially faster life histories, at least at the genus level, than other great apes. This calls for a re-evaluation of theories concerning comparative ape life history and evolution and highlights the need for data from additional populations that vary in energetic risk. Am J Phys Anthropol 152:165–172, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.