Social bonds in the dispersing sex: Partner preferences among adult female chimpanzees

Steffen Foerster, Karen McLellan, Kara Schroepfer-Walker, Carson M. Murray, Christopher Krupenye, Ian Gilby, Anne E. Pusey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


In most primate societies, strong and enduring social bonds form preferentially among kin, who benefit from cooperation through direct and indirect fitness gains. Chimpanzees, Pan troglodytes, differ from most species by showing consistent female-biased dispersal and strict male philopatry. In most East African populations, females tend to forage alone in small core areas and were long thought to have weak social bonds of little biological significance. Recent work in some populations is challenging this view. However, difficulties remain in quantifying the influence of shared space use on association patterns, and in identifying the drivers of partner preferences and social bonds. Here, we use the largest data set on wild chimpanzee behaviour currently available to assess potential determinants of female association patterns. We quantify pairwise similarities in ranging, dyadic association and grooming for 624 unique dyads over 38 years, including 17 adult female kin dyads. To search for social preferences that could not be explained by spatial overlap alone, we controlled for expected association based on pairwise kernel volume intersections of core areas. We found that association frequencies among females with above-average overlap correlated positively with grooming rates, suggesting that associations reflected social preferences in these dyads. Furthermore, when available, females preferred kin over nonkin partners for association and grooming, and variability was high among nonkin dyads. While variability in association above and below expected values was high, on average, nonkin associated more frequently if they had immature male offspring, while having female offspring had the opposite effect. Dominance rank, an important determinant of reproductive success at Gombe, influenced associations primarily for low-ranking females, who associated preferentially with each other. Our findings support the hypothesis that female chimpanzees form well-differentiated social relationships that are of potential adaptive value to females and their offspring.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)139-152
Number of pages14
JournalAnimal Behaviour
StatePublished - Jul 1 2015


  • Chimpanzee social structure
  • Core area
  • Dyadic association
  • Kin bias
  • Range estimation
  • Social bonding
  • Social preference

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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