Family Feuds: Severe Aggression among Cooperatively Breeding Cotton-Top Tamarins

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A survey of severe aggression occurring over the 20 year history of a cotton-top tamarin (Saguinus oedipus) colony indicated that most aggression was between same-sex individuals, with fights among siblings more common than parent-offspring conflict. Males engaged in severe aggression more often than females did, paralleling the dimorphic aggressive response to same-sex intruders in this species. Female-female aggression occurred at larger group sizes than male-male aggression, suggesting a higher threshold for female aggression. Much sibling aggression was directed by postpubertal subadults toward prepubertal siblings. Only 17% of aggression occurred in association with infant births, and these cases rarely involved parents and offspring suggesting that aggression was not used by reproductive animals to defend their breeding position. Severe aggression was often associated with attempts to introduce stepparents or movement of individuals in and out of the group. The mean group sizes when aggression is observed in captivity are close to the maximum group sizes observed in wild tamarins, which suggests that severe aggression in captive groups may reflect processes related to dispersal in wild tamarins.

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