Disease avoidance, and breeding group age and size condition the dispersal patterns of western lowland gorilla females

Ecology. 2019 Sep;100(9):e02786. doi: 10.1002/ecy.2786. Epub 2019 Jul 19.


Social dispersal is an important feature of population dynamics. When female mammals occur in polygynous groups, their dispersal decisions are conditioned by various female-, male-, and group-related factors. Among them, the influence of disease often remains difficult to assess. To address this challenge, we used long-term monitoring data from two gorilla populations (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) affected by infectious skin disease lesions. After controlling for other potentially influential factors, we investigated to which extent disease avoidance drives the dispersal decisions of gorilla females. We showed that the infection of a silverback of a breeding group by the skin disease increased the probability of adult females to emigrate. Moreover, adult females avoided breeding groups with a high prevalence of skin disease by emigrating from them and immigrating into healthier ones. Age of the breeding group was also an important factor. Adult females left older groups, near the end of a male tenure, to join younger ones led by younger fully grown silverbacks that could be of high reproductive and protective value. Our study highlights that, although females select for high-quality males, disease avoidance is a critical driver of their dispersion decision.

Keywords: breeding male quality; female emigration and immigration; gorillas; polygynous mammal; skin disease; social dispersal; social environment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Breeding
  • Female
  • Gorilla gorilla*
  • Male
  • Population Dynamics
  • Reproduction*