A new study has found that male chimpanzees that form strong bonds with other men in their armies are more likely to be fathers. There are two ways to do this, either to get closer to the strongest personality or to build a large network of less influential friends.
The results not only tarnish some of the simplest models of animals and humans, but they also shed light on the forces that allow social primates to develop. Animal sex life is often portrayed as a world of pure competition, where men fight to get women, and only the strong or tactical succeed. At least there are plenty of alternative examples among social animals, now including our closest relatives.
Dr. Joseph Feldblum of the University of Michigan led a study of chimpanzees in Tanzania. In Eye Science, he reports that having multiple wing-chimps certainly works for the benefit of men. Feldblum said in a statement, “Biologists have long had a big question, why do you see so many friendly behaviors, such as cooperation and alliances between animals?”
“One can see these social bonds – or strong, friendly social relationships – only if they provide some kind of fitness facility to individuals. Men will not spend all this time sorting out other men and giving up trying to find women or food. You will get a kind of benefit from it.” Of course, such benefits can come in many forms. Social bonds can help teams unite against predators, for example, and encourage food sharing that ensures that a large number survive in bad times.
Nonetheless, creating these bonds can involve doing a lot of work long before any payments, so the incentives have to be strong and stronger than a few sexes. Despite all the work that has been done on research into chimpanzee social behavior over the past sixty years, social relationships and relationships between offspring have been neglected, at least in the case of males. “Chimps collaborate frequently and often in this dramatic way: you see things like makeup, all sorts of complex alliance formation, and group regional defenses,” Feldblum said. “The question is: what do men get out of it and how?”