A model for within-group coalitionary aggression among males

Carel P. Van Schaik, Sagar A. Pandit, Erin R. Vogel

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

43 Scopus citations


Perhaps the most common form of cooperation among primates is the formation of coalitions. Competition among males within a group concerns a constant quantity of the limiting resource (fertilizations). Contest competition over fertilizations is known to produce payoffs that are distributed according to the priority-of-access model, and hence show an exponential decline in payoff with rank. We develop a model for rank-changing, within-group coalitions among primate males. For these coalitions to occur, they must be both profitable (i.e. improve fitness) for all coalition members and feasible (i.e. be able to beat the targets). We assume that the value of the coalition is the sum of the payoffs of the partners in their original ranks. We distinguish three basic coalition configurations, depending on the dominance ranks of the coalition partners relative to their target. We predict five basic coalition types. First, all-up, rank-changing coalitions targeting individuals ranking above all coalition partners; these are expected to involve coalition partners ranking just below their target, concern top rank, and be small, just two or three animals. Second, bridging, rank-changing coalitions, where higher-rankers support lower-rankers to rise to a rank below themselves; these are expected to be most common where a high-ranking male in a despotic system can support a low-ranking relative. Third, bridging non-rank-changing coalitions; these are expected to be common whenever high-ranking males have low-ranking close relatives. Fourth, non-rank-changing coalitions by high-rankers against lower-ranking targets; these are expected to serve to counteract or prevent the first type. Fifth, non-rank-changing, leveling coalitions, in which all partners rank below their target and which flatten the payoff distribution; these are expected to be large and mainly involve lower-ranking males. Bridging, rank-changing coalitions are expected in situations where contest is strong, all-up rank-changing coalitions where contest is intermediate, and leveling coalitions where contest is weak. We review the empirical patterns found among primates. The strong predictions of the model are confirmed by observational data on male-male coalitions in primates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)101-109
Number of pages9
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Dec 1 2004


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


  • Coalitions
  • Competition
  • Males
  • Primates
  • Rank

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