Scalar social dynamics in female vervet monkey cohorts

S Peter Henzi, Nicola Forshaw, Ria Boner, Louise Barrett, David Lusseau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


Primate social life and behaviour is contingent on a number of levels: phylogenetic, functional and proximate. Although this contingency is recognized by socioecological theory, variability in behaviour is still commonly viewed as 'noise' around a central tendency, rather than as a source of information. An alternative view is that selection has acted on social reaction norms that encompass demographic variation both between and within populations and demes. Here, using data from vervet monkeys (Chlorocebus aethiops pygerythrus), we illustrate how this alternative approach can provide a more nuanced account of social structure and its relation to contingent events at the ecological and demographic levels. Female vervets in our South African study population live in large groups, where they experience demographic stress and increased levels of feeding competition relative to an East African population in Amboseli, Kenya. Females in the South African population did not respond to this stress by intensifying competition for high-value grooming partners to help alleviate the effects of this stress, did not show the expected rank-related patterns of grooming, nor did they show any spatial association with their preferred grooming partners. Increased group size therefore resulted in a reorganization of female social engagement that was both qualitatively and quantitatively different to that seen elsewhere, and suggests that female vervets possess the flexibility to shift to alternative patterns of social engagement in response to contingent ecological and demographic conditions.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20120351
Number of pages9
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1618
Early online date8 Apr 2013
Publication statusPublished - 19 May 2013


  • aggression
  • animal distribution
  • animals
  • cercopithecus aethiops
  • competitive behavior
  • ecosystem
  • female
  • grooming
  • Kenya
  • mating preference, animal
  • population density
  • population dynamics
  • social behavior
  • South Africa
  • species specificity


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