Patterns of coalition formation by adult female baboons in Amboseli, Kenya

Joan B. Silk, Susan C. Alberts, Jeanne Altmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

138 Scopus citations


Coalitionary support in agonistic interactions is generally thought to be costly to the actor and beneficial to the recipient. Explanations for such cooperative interactions usually invoke kin selection, reciprocal altruism or mutualism. We evaluated the role of these factors and individual benefits in shaping the pattern of coalitionary activity among adult female savannah baboons, Papio cynocephalus, in Amboseli, Kenya. There is a broad consensus that, when ecological conditions favour collective defence of resources, selection favours investment in social relationships with those likely to provide coalitionary support. The primary features of social organization in female-bonded groups, including female philopatry, linear dominance hierarchies, acquisition of maternal rank and well-differentiated female relationships, are thought to be functionally linked to the existence of alliances between females. Female savannah baboons display these characteristics, but the frequency and function of their coalitionary aggression is disputed. In our five study groups, 4-6% of all disputes between females led to intervention by third parties. Adult females selectively supported close maternal kin. There was no evidence that females traded grooming for support or reciprocated support with nonkin. High-ranking females participated in coalitionary aggression most frequently, perhaps because they derived more benefits from group membership than other females did or could provide support at lower cost. Females typically supported the higher ranking of two contestants when they intervened in disputes between subordinates, so most coalitions reinforced the existing dominance hierarchy. Results indicate that female baboons participate in coalitionary aggression in a manner strongly influenced by nepotism and individual benefits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)573-582
Number of pages10
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2004
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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