Rhesus monkey behaviour under diverse population densities: Coping with long-term crowding

  • Judge P
  • De Waal F
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A popular view is that high population density promotes behavioural pathology, particularly increased aggression. In contrast, according to a coping model, some primates have behavioural mechanisms (e.g. formal displays, reconciliation and grooming) that regulate social tensions and control the negative consequences of crowding. Seven captive rhesus monkey groups, Macaca mulatta, were observed over a wide range of population densities where high-density groups were over 2000 times more crowded than low-density free-ranging groups. As density increased, male rhesus monkeys increased grooming and huddling but did not increase rates of aggression. Females increased all categories of behaviour examined (heavy aggression, mild aggression, formal bared-teeth displays, grooming and huddling), but the increases were not distributed uniformly to all classes of partners. Females increased only grooming, huddling and appeasement displays to males, increased only aggression and huddling with kin and increased all categories of behaviour to non-kin adult females. There were no differences in the percentage of aggressive conflicts reconciled across density conditions. Increased density had different effects on particular relationships. Relationships between females and males where characterized by a coping pattern in which animals modified their behaviour in ways that may decrease aggression under crowded conditions. Female relationships with kin and non-kin were characterized by increases in both aggression and friendly interactions as density increased. The different patterns of response to higher density may reflect different strategies depending on the strength and stability of relationships and the potential consequences if certain relationships are disrupted.

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  • Peter G. Judge

  • Frans B.M. De Waal

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