Alpha male chimpanzee grooming patterns: Implications for dominance "style"

M. W. Foster, I. C. Gilby, C. M. Murray, A. Johnson, E. E. Wroblewski, A. E. Pusey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


In social primates, individuals use various tactics to compete for dominance rank. Grooming, displays and contact aggression are common components of a male chimpanzee's dominance repertoire. The optimal combination of these behaviors is likely to differ among males with individuals exhibiting a dominance "style" that reflects their tendency to use cooperative and/or agonistic dominance tactics. Here, we examine the grooming behavior of three alpha male chimpanzees at Gombe National Park, Tanzania. We found that (1) these males differed significantly in their tendency to groom with other males; (2) each male's grooming patterns remained consistent before, during and after his tenure as alpha, and (3) the three males tended to groom with high- middle- and low-ranking partners equally. We suggest that body mass may be one possible determinant of differences in grooming behavior. The largest male exhibited the lowest overall grooming rates, whereas the smallest male spent the most time grooming others. This is probably because large males are more effective at physically intimidating subordinates. To achieve alpha status, a small male may need to compensate for reduced size by investing more time and energy in grooming, thereby ensuring coalitionary support from others. Rates of contact aggression and charging displays conformed to this prediction, suggesting that each male exhibited a different dominance "style."

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)136-144
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican Journal of Primatology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Alpha male
  • Body mass
  • Chimpanzee
  • Dominance style
  • Grooming

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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