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PLoS One. 2012;7(5):e36641. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0036641. Epub 2012 May 8.

Grooming up the hierarchy: the exchange of grooming and rank-related benefits in a new world primate.

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Research Centre in Evolutionary Anthropology and Palaeoecology, School of Natural Sciences and Psychology, Liverpool John Moores University, United Kingdom.


Seyfarth's model assumes that female primates derive rank-related benefits from higher-ranking females in exchange for grooming. As a consequence, the model predicts females prefer high-ranking females as grooming partners and compete for the opportunity to groom them. Therefore, allogrooming is expected to be directed up the dominance hierarchy and to occur more often between females with adjacent ranks. Although data from Old World primates generally support the model, studies on the relation between grooming and dominance rank in the New World genus Cebus have found conflicting results, showing considerable variability across groups and species. In this study, we investigated the pattern of grooming in wild tufted capuchin females (Cebus apella nigritus) in IguazĂș National Park, Argentina by testing both the assumption (i.e., that females gain rank-related return benefits from grooming) and predictions (i.e., that females direct grooming up the dominance hierarchy and the majority of grooming occurs between females with adjacent ranks) of Seyfarth's model. Study subjects were 9 adult females belonging to a single group. Results showed that grooming was given in return for tolerance during naturally occurring feeding, a benefit that higher-ranking females can more easily grant. Female grooming was directed up the hierarchy and was given more often to partners with similar rank. These findings provide supporting evidence for both the assumption and predictions of Seyfarth's model and represent, more generally, the first evidence of reciprocal behavioural interchanges driven by rank-related benefits in New World female primates.

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