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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2013 Oct 28;368(1631):20130081. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2013.0081. Print 2013.

Reproductive competition between females in the matrilineal Mosuo of southwestern China.

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Key Laboratory of Animal Ecology and Conservation Biology, Centre for Computational and Evolutionary Biology, Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, , Beijing 100101, China.


The matrilineal Mosuo of southwestern China live in communal households where brothers and sisters of three generations live together (duolocal residence), and men visit their wives, who reside elsewhere, only at night in 'visiting' marriages. Here we show that these communally breeding sisters are in reproductive conflict, in the sense that they share the resources needed to reproduce. We analyse determinants of reproductive success in females and males, and show that co-resident female kin are in competition; the more female kin reside in the household, the more reproductive success is reduced. Male reproductive success, however, is not determined by the kin in his natal household; duolocal males are not in reproductive conflict with their siblings. Competition with female cousins can be worse than that between sisters. We also find that female work on the farm (which is the main communal resource) is not equal. We use a 'tug-of-war' model of reproductive skew generated by incomplete control, to model the patterns of effort put into competition between sisters and cousins. The model predicts that more dominant (older) sisters will put less effort into reproductive conflict than will less dominant (younger) sisters; but younger sisters will also have lower reproductive success because they are less efficient at gaining access to the shared resource. Both predictions are consistent with our data. Younger sisters work less in the fields than do older sisters, which may represent a form of conflict or may be because their average relatedness to the household is lower than that of their more fertile older sisters.


anthropology; communal breeding; conflict; cooperation; family; matriliny

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