Maternal Investment of the Virunga Mountain Gorillas


Martha M. Robbins, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Deutscher Platz 6, 04103 Leipzig, Germany.


The Trivers & Willard hypothesis (TWH) predicts that females with more resources should bias their maternal investment toward offspring of the sex that is most likely to benefit from those additional resources. This paper examines the sex allocation of 61 female mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) of the Virunga volcanoes, Rwanda from 1967 to 2004. Like most highly dimorphic, polygynous mammals, mountain gorillas are expected to show greater variance in reproductive success among males than females, so mothers in good condition should bias their investment toward sons. Using dominance rank as the indicator of maternal condition, the TWH was tentatively supported by our results with interbirth intervals (IBI). Dominant mothers had longer IBI following the birth of sons, relative to the longer IBI that subordinate mothers had with daughters. In contrast, maternal condition did not have a significant effect on birth sex ratios. We also found no significant relationships with other variables that might influence birth sex ratios (e.g., maternal age, parity, or group size), and the overall birth sex ratio was not significantly different from a 50:50 split. Collectively, our results suggest that female mountain gorillas do not control the sex ratio of their offspring at birth, but they may adjust their subsequent maternal investment. This conclusion is consistent with recurring questions about whether any adjustments in birth sex ratios occur in primates.