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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 1, 2024
  2. Evolutionary theories predict that sibling relationships will reflect a complex balance of cooperative and competitive dynamics. In most mammals, dispersal and death patterns mean that sibling relationships occur in a relatively narrow window during development and/or only with same-sex individuals. Besides humans, one notable exception is mountain gorillas, in which non-sex-biased dispersal, relatively stable group composition, and the long reproductive tenures of alpha males mean that animals routinely reside with both maternally and paternally related siblings, of the same and opposite sex, throughout their lives. Using nearly 40,000 hr of behavioral data collected over 14 years on 699 sibling and 1235 non-sibling pairs of wild mountain gorillas, we demonstrate that individuals have strong affiliative preferences for full and maternal siblings over paternal siblings or unrelated animals, consistent with an inability to discriminate paternal kin. Intriguingly, however, aggression data imply the opposite. Aggression rates were statistically indistinguishable among all types of dyads except one: in mixed-sex dyads, non-siblings engaged in substantially more aggression than siblings of any type. This pattern suggests mountain gorillas may be capable of distinguishing paternal kin but nonetheless choose not to affiliate with them over non-kin. We observe a preference for maternal kin in a species with a high reproductive skew (i.e. high relatedness certainty), even though low reproductive skew (i.e. low relatedness certainty) is believed to underlie such biases in other non-human primates. Our results call into question reasons for strong maternal kin biases when paternal kin are identifiable, familiar, and similarly likely to be long-term groupmates, and they may also suggest behavioral mismatches at play during a transitional period in mountain gorilla society. 
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  3. Primate offspring often depend on their mothers well beyond the age of weaning, and offspring that experience maternal death in early life can suffer substantial reductions in fitness across the life span. Here, we leverage data from eight wild primate populations (seven species) to examine two underappreciated pathways linking early maternal death and offspring fitness that are distinct from direct effects of orphaning on offspring survival. First, we show that, for five of the seven species, offspring face reduced survival during the years immediately preceding maternal death, while the mother is still alive. Second, we identify an intergenerational effect of early maternal loss in three species (muriquis, baboons, and blue monkeys), such that early maternal death experienced in one generation leads to reduced offspring survival in the next. Our results have important implications for the evolution of slow life histories in primates, as they suggest that maternal condition and survival are more important for offspring fitness than previously realized. 
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  4. Abstract Objectives

    Several theories have been proposed to explain the impact of ecological conditions on differences in life history variables within and between species. Here we compare female life history parameters of one western lowland gorilla population(Gorilla gorilla gorilla) and two mountain gorilla populations(Gorilla beringei beringei).

    Materials and Methods

    We compared the age of natal dispersal, age of first birth, interbirth interval, and birth rates using long‐term demographic datasets from Mbeli Bai (western gorillas), Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and the Virunga Massif (mountain gorillas).

    Results

    The Mbeli western gorillas had the latest age at first birth, longest interbirth interval, and slowest surviving birth rate compared to the Virunga mountain gorillas. Bwindi mountain gorillas were intermediate in their life history patterns.

    Discussion

    These patterns are consistent with differences in feeding ecology across sites. However, it is not possible to determine the evolutionary mechanisms responsible for these differences, whether a consequence of genetic adaptation to fluctuating food supplies (“ecological risk aversion hypothesis”) or phenotypic plasticity in response to the abundance of food (“energy balance hypothesis”). Our results do not seem consistent with the extrinsic mortality risks at each site, but current conditions for mountain gorillas are unlikely to match their evolutionary history. Not all traits fell along the expected fast‐slow continuum, which illustrates that they can vary independently from each other (“modularity model”). Thus, the life history traits of each gorilla population may reflect a complex interplay of multiple ecological influences that are operating through both genetic adaptations and phenotypic plasticity.

     
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  5. Abstract Socioecological theory predicts that male parenting among mammals should be rare due to the large payoffs of prioritizing mating effort over parenting. Although these predictions are generally met, in some promiscuous primate species males overcome this by identifying their offspring, and providing benefits such as protection and resource access. Mountain gorillas, which often organize into multi-male groups, are an intriguing exception. Males frequently affiliate with infants despite not discriminating their own from other males’ offspring, raising questions about the function of this behavior. Here we demonstrate that, independent of multiple controls for rank, age, and siring opportunities, male gorillas who affiliated more with all infants, not only their own, sired more offspring than males who affiliated less with young. Predictive margins indicate males in the top affiliation tertile can expect to sire approximately five times more infants than males in the bottom tertile, across the course of their reproductive careers. These findings establish a link between males’ fitness and their associations with infants in the absence of kin discrimination or high paternity certainty, and suggest a strategy by which selection could generate more involved male parenting among non-monogamous species. 
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  6. null (Ed.)
    Abstract Is it possible to slow the rate of ageing, or do biological constraints limit its plasticity? We test the ‘invariant rate of ageing’ hypothesis, which posits that the rate of ageing is relatively fixed within species, with a collection of 39 human and nonhuman primate datasets across seven genera. We first recapitulate, in nonhuman primates, the highly regular relationship between life expectancy and lifespan equality seen in humans. We next demonstrate that variation in the rate of ageing within genera is orders of magnitude smaller than variation in pre-adult and age-independent mortality. Finally, we demonstrate that changes in the rate of ageing, but not other mortality parameters, produce striking, species-atypical changes in mortality patterns. Our results support the invariant rate of ageing hypothesis, implying biological constraints on how much the human rate of ageing can be slowed. 
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  7. Abstract

    Androgens are important mediators of male‐male competition in many primate species. Male gorillas' morphology is consistent with a reproductive strategy that relies heavily on androgen‐dependent traits (e.g., extreme size and muscle mass). Despite possessing characteristics typical of species with an exclusively single‐male group structure, multimale groups with strong dominance hierarchies are common in mountain gorillas. Theory predicts that androgens should mediate their dominance hierarchies, and potentially vary with the type of group males live in. We validated the use of a testosterone enzyme immunoassay (T‐EIA R156/7, CJ Munro, UC‐Davis) for use with mountain gorilla fecal material by (1) examining individual‐level androgen responses to competitive events, and (2) isolating assay‐specific hormone metabolites via high‐performance liquid chromatography. Males had large (2.6‐ and 6.5‐fold), temporary increases in fecal androgen metabolite (FAM) after competitive events, and most captured metabolites were testosterone or 5α‐dihydrotestosterone‐like androgens. We then examined the relationship between males' dominance ranks, group type, and FAM concentrations. Males in single‐male groups had higher FAM concentrations than males in multimale groups, and a small pool of samples from solitary males suggested they may have lower FAM than group‐living peers. However, data from two different time periods (n = 1610 samples) indicated there was no clear relationship between rank and FAM concentrations, confirming results from the larger of two prior studies that measured urinary androgens. These findings highlight the need for additional research to clarify the surprising lack of a dominance hierarchy/androgen relationship in mountain gorillas.

     
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  8. Abstract

    Although individuals in some species refuse foods they normally accept if their partner receives a more preferred one, this is not true across all species. The cooperation hypothesis proposes that this species‐level variability evolved because inequity aversion is a mechanism to identify situations in which cooperation is not paying off, and that species regularly observed cooperating should be more likely to be averse to inequity. To rule out other potential explanations of inequity aversion, we need to test the converse as well: species rarely observed cooperating, especially those phylogenetically close to more cooperative species, should belesslikely to be inequity averse. To this end, we tested eight zoo‐housed Western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) on a token exchange task in which subjects received either the same food reward or a less‐preferred reward for the same or more effort than their partner, recording both refusals to participate in the exchange and refusals to accept the reward. Supporting the cooperation hypothesis, even with procedural differences across sessions, gorillas were significantly more likely to refuse in all conditions in which they received a low‐value food reward after completing an exchange, regardless of what their partner received, suggesting that gorillas were not inequity averse, but instead would not work for a low‐value reward. Additionally, gorillas were more likely to refuse later in the session; while the pattern of refusals remained unchanged after accounting for this, this suggests that species should be tested on as many trials as is practical.

     
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  9. Abstract

    Living in a rapidly changing environment can alter stress physiology at the population level, with negative impacts on health, reproductive rates, and mortality that may ultimately result in species decline. Small, isolated animal populations where genetic diversity is low are at particular risks, such as endangered Virunga mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei). Along with climate change‐associated environmental shifts that are affecting the entire population, subpopulations of the Virunga gorillas have recently experienced extreme changes in their social environment. As the growing population moves closer to the forest's carrying capacity, the gorillas are coping with rising population density, increased frequencies of interactions between social units, and changing habitat use (e.g., more overlapping home ranges and routine ranging at higher elevations). Using noninvasive monitoring of fecal glucocorticoid metabolites (FGM) on 115 habituated Virunga gorillas, we investigated how social and ecological variation are related to baseline FGM levels, to better understand the adaptive capacity of mountain gorillas and monitor potential physiological indicators of population decline risks. Generalized linear mixed models revealed elevated mean monthly baseline FGM levels in months with higher rainfall and higher mean maximum and minimum temperature, suggesting that Virunga gorillas might be sensitive to predicted warming and rainfall trends involving longer, warmer dry seasons and more concentrated and extreme rainfall occurrences. Exclusive use of smaller home range areas was linked to elevated baseline FGM levels, which may reflect reduced feeding efficiency and increased travel efforts to actively avoid neighboring groups. The potential for additive effects of stress‐inducing factors could have short‐ and long‐term impacts on the reproduction, health, and ultimately survival of the Virunga gorilla population. The ongoing effects of environmental changes and population dynamics must be closely monitored and used to develop effective long‐term conservation strategies that can help address these risk factors.

     
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