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J Hum Evol. 2010 Jul;59(1):44-53. doi: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2010.02.006. Epub 2010 May 21.

No evidence of short-term exchange of meat for sex among chimpanzees.

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  • 1Department of Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, USA.


The meat-for-sex hypothesis posits that male chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) trade meat with estrous females in exchange for short-term mating access. This notion is widely cited in the anthropological literature and has been used to construct scenarios about human evolution. Here we review the theoretical and empirical basis for the meat-for-sex hypothesis. We argue that chimpanzee behavioral ecology does not favor the evolution of such exchanges because 1) female chimpanzees show low mate selectivity and require little or no material incentive to mate, violating existing models of commodity exchange; and 2) meat-for-sex exchanges are unlikely to provide reproductive benefits to either partner. We also present new analyses of 28 years of data from two East African chimpanzee study sites (Gombe National Park, Tanzania; Kanyawara, Kibale National Park, Uganda) and discuss the results of previously published studies. In at least three chimpanzee communities, 1) the presence of sexually receptive females did not increase hunting probability, 2) males did not share preferentially with sexually receptive females, and 3) sharing with females did not increase a male's short-term mating success. We acknowledge that systematic meat sharing by male chimpanzees in expectation of, or in return for, immediate copulations might be discovered in future studies. However, current data indicate that such exchanges are so rare, and so different in nature from exchanges among humans, that with respect to chimpanzees, sexual bartering in humans should be regarded as a derived trait with no known antecedents in the behavior of wild chimpanzees.

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