Fitness-related Benefits of Dominance in Primates

Am J Phys Anthropol. 2012 Apr;147(4):652-60. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.22031. Epub 2012 Feb 13.


Dominance hierarchies are thought to provide various fitness-related benefits to dominant individuals (e.g., preferential access to food or mating partners). Remarkably, however, different studies on this topic have produced contradictory results, with some showing strong positive association between rank and fitness (i.e., dominants gain benefits over subordinates), others weak associations, and some others even revealing negative associations. Here, we investigate dominance-related benefits across primate species while controlling for phylogenetic effects. We extracted data from 94 published studies, representing 25 primate species (2 lemur species, 4 New World monkeys, 16 Old World monkeys, and 3 apes), to assess how dominance affects life-history and behavior. We used standard and phylogenetic meta-analyses to analyze the benefits of dominance in primates. Dominant females had higher infant survival to first year, although we found no significant effect of dominance on female feeding success. Results for female fecundity differed between the two meta-analytical approaches, with no effect of dominance on female fecundity after controlling for phylogeny. Dominant males had a higher fecundity and mating success than subordinate males. Finally, the benefits of dominance for female fecundity were stronger in species with a longer lifespan. Our study supports the view that dominance hierarchies are a key aspect of primate societies as they indeed provide a number of fitness-related benefits to individuals.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anthropology, Physical
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology
  • Female
  • Fertility / physiology*
  • Male
  • Primates / physiology*
  • Social Dominance*