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Am J Primatol. 2007 Aug;69(8):837-50.

Female feeding priority in bonobos, Pan paniscus, and the question of female dominance.

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Department Anthropology, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403, USA.


The question of whether bonobos show feeding priority and female dominance has been proposed and examined, both in the wild and in captive studies, with differing results. The relationship between female dominance and female feeding priority has been best studied in prosimian primates. These studies use established criteria of females consistently evoking submissive behavior from males in dyadic encounters for determining female dominance. Although the relationship is complex, female dominance in prosimians is associated with preferential access to food. Data from studies of wild habituated bonobos in the Lomako Forest, Democratic Republic of the Congo, are examined for evidence of both female feeding priority and female social dominance using similar criteria as used for prosimians. Bonobos showed evidence of female feeding priority in small, but not in large, food patches. Male-male competition for mating opportunities at the start of the food bout was related to some, but not all, differences in time spent feeding between the sexes. Female dominance similar to that seen in prosimians was not observed in these bonobos. Males were consistently dominant in dyadic interactions. Female feeding priority with male dyadic social dominance implies that male deference during feeding cannot be excluded as one explanation of interpretations of female dominance in bonobos. Additionally, dominance of male bonobos by females appears to require the presence of female coalition partners. As in other primates with female feeding priority, bonobo females express this trait where food is economically defendable. Unlike prosimians, however, bonobo female feeding priority may result from male deference and the importance of female coalitions in nondyadic interactions.

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