To fission or to fusion: effects of community size on wild chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes verus) social organisation

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To balance advantages and disadvantages of group living, some species have fission-fusion social systems in which members of the same group form frequently changing subgroups. This allows flexible responses of group size to external conditions while at the same time retaining group stability. In chimpanzees, subgroup (party) size and composition depend mainly on the presence of receptive females, food availability and the activity of the party. Here we analyse the extent to which fission-fusion parameters are influenced by changes of demographic variables like community size and composition. Data were collected from a habituated West African chimpanzee community (Taï forest, Côte d'Ivoire) over 10 years, during which total community size decreased from 51 to 21, and the number of adult males decreased from 9 to 2. Taï chimpanzees are highly gregarious, as they spend more than 80% of their time with unrelated conspecifics. With decreasing community size, party size, party duration and male-female association increased. Neither activity nor the presence of receptive females or feeding competition could explain the observed changes in grouping patterns. Thus, the decrease in community size led to an increase of party cohesion and also enhanced cohesiveness between the sexes, while general sociality remained unchanged. Therefore, our data support the notion that small communities are more cohesive and have a less flexible fission-fusion system.

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