Rachna Reddy is a PhD candidate from the University of Michigan. She was awarded a Leakey Foundation research grant during our spring 2016 cycle for her project entitled “The development of male reproductive strategies in wild chimpanzees.”
Across the animal kingdom, male animals compete for mates. This competition can be fierce, and usually, the biggest, strongest, and highest-ranking males win and father the most offspring. However, in at least one population of our close relatives, chimpanzees, a remarkable number of adolescent and young adult males manage to sire offspring. This is puzzling because, much like adolescent humans, these young male chimpanzees are sexually, but not socially or physically mature. They are just beginning to become independent from their mothers and to follow adult males in the forest. Yet, it will be many years before they can actually challenge these adults for rank and mates. How then, do young males manage to mate with females? This is precisely what I will investigate.
At Ngogo in Kibale National Park, Uganda, I will spend 15 months documenting the social lives of more than 25 adolescent and young adult males (age 8 – 20 years). Specifically, I will examine how young males use both aggression and affiliation to mate with females. Do young males, like older adults, attempt to sexually coerce females? How old and how big must males become for this strategy to be successful? And do males form social bonds with females during adolescence that influence mating? How do their interactions differ with their adolescent female peers compared to older females? This research will furnish our understanding of the development of both aggressive and affiliative male reproductive strategies in chimpanzees and may provide insights into the evolutionary origins of intersexual violence in humans.
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