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Review
, 52 (3), 275-93

The Orang-Utan Mating System and the Unflanged Male: A Product of Increased Food Stress During the Late Miocene and Pliocene?

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Review

The Orang-Utan Mating System and the Unflanged Male: A Product of Increased Food Stress During the Late Miocene and Pliocene?

Mark E Harrison et al. J Hum Evol.

Abstract

The orang-utan is unique among apes in having an unusually long male developmental period and two distinct adult male morphs (flanged and unflanged), which generally, but not exclusively, employ different reproductive strategies (call-and-wait vs. sneak-and-rape). Both morphs have recently been shown to have roughly similar levels of reproductive success in the one site where such a study has been conducted. This is in stark contrast to the unimale polygynous gorilla, in which dominant males sire almost all infants. Despite this, evidence on sexual dimorphism, life history, diet, and socioecology of extant and extinct apes, as well as the ontogeny, reproductive morphology, and physiology of extant apes, all indicate that the orang-utan's present-day mating system most likely evolved from a gorilla-like base, with one dominant male guarding a harem of females. The available evidence indicates that, due chiefly to the likely onset of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (generally regarded as the trigger for mast fruiting in dipterocarps) approximately 3-5Ma, southeast Asian forests would have begun to experience longer and more severe periods of low food availability. This change in food availability would have meant that full-time gregariousness was no longer energetically tolerable and, as a result, females dispersed more widely in search of food and adult/flanged males were no longer able to effectively guard a harem of females. A niche for a quiet, quick, opportunistic "sexual predator" (i.e., the unflanged male) then became available. This finding implies that, despite being anatomically quite chimpanzee-like, the ancestral hominoid probably had a social and mating system more similar to the gorilla than any other living ape.

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