The Function of Male Agonistic Displays in Ursine Colobus Monkeys (Colobus vellerosus): Male Competition, Female Mate Choice or Sexual Coercion?


Julie A. Teichroeb, Department of Anthropology, University of Calgary, 2500 University Drive N.W., Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2N 1N4.


Male agonistic displays may allow males to assess competitors, females to assess mates, or could be directed at cycling females to sexually coerce them. We analysed the display output of 26 male ursine colobus monkeys (Colobus vellerosus) in four groups over 13-mo at the Boabeng-Fiema Monkey Sanctuary, Ghana. Display indices (including three behaviours, loud calls, stiff-legs, and jump-displays) were calculated for males in each group. Males vary in their expression of these behaviours suggesting they are sexually selected signals. We investigated the target of displays and whether display indices varied in relation to male dominance rank, eviction of other males, copulation rate, and proceptive behaviours received from females, to assess the primary function of these behaviours. Male displays decreased in vigour over time and were targeted to other groups and males. High-ranking males displayed more than low-ranking males. Alpha male display indices correlated with the number of other males evicted from the group. Display rates were generally higher when cycling females were present in the group. However, neither male display index nor rank correlated with copulation rates. Alpha and non-alpha males gave cycling females equal rates of sexual solicitations; likewise cycling females showed no difference in the rates of proceptive behaviours directed towards alpha and non-alpha males. Females mated promiscuously and did not seem to base mating decisions on male display output, although data on female hormones is needed to determine if they mate with strongly displaying males more in the periovulatory period. The male–male competition hypothesis received the greatest support, with some support for the female mate choice hypothesis. Although behaviours that appeared sexually coercive were observed, the function of male displays did not seem to be sexual coercion. Displays were rarely directed at females and males that displayed more did not have greater mating success.