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The claim that dominance rank determines male mating success in polygamous primate groups is controversial. One argument against the claim is that spurious correlations are often obtained between dominance rank and mating success as a result of the confounding effects of age. Mating data from 32 studies of primate behaviour, totalling 75 study groups, were collated to test this criticism and investigate the determinants of observed variation in the correlation coefficient values. Despite conflicting reports, a reliable positive relationship between male dominance rank and mating success amongst animals of the same age class is seen. Furthermore, the variation in correlation coefficient values is significantly negatively related to the number of males in the group (the single exception being highly dimorphic primate species, where instead the correlation coefficient is positively related to the number of females). The intensity of the effect of the number of males is most severe in seasonal breeders. These results indicate that the relationship between dominance rank and mating success appears to be a function of the level of competition that males face in the group for access to cycling females. Data on genetic paternity indicate that these results hold even for absolute measures of reproductive success. © 1991.

Original publication




Journal article


Animal Behaviour

Publication Date





1045 - 1056