Aggression rates increase around seasonally exploited resources in a primarily grass-eating primate

Julie C. Jarvey, Bobbi S. Low, Abebaw Azanaw Haile, Kenneth L. Chiou, Noah Snyder-Mackler, Amy Lu, Thore J. Bergman, Jacinta C. Beehner, India A. Schneider-Crease

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Female social relationships are often shaped by the distribution of dietary resources. Socioecological models predict that females should form strict linear dominance hierarchies when resources are clumped and exhibit more egalitarian social structures when resources are evenly distributed. While many frugivores and omnivores indeed exhibit dominance hierarchies accompanied by differential resource access, many folivores deviate from the expected pattern and display dominance hierarchies despite evenly distributed resources. Among these outliers, geladas (Theropithecus gelada) present a conspicuous puzzle; females exhibit aggressive competition and strict dominance hierarchies despite feeding primarily on non-monopolizable grasses. However, these grasses become scarce in the dry season and geladas supplement their diet with underground storage organs that require relatively extensive energy to extract. We tested whether female dominance hierarchies provide differential access to underground storage organs by assessing how rank, season, and feeding context affect aggression in geladas under long-term study in the Simien Mountains National Park, Ethiopia. We found that the likelihood of receiving aggression was highest when feeding belowground and that the inverse relationship between rank and aggression was the most extreme while feeding belowground in the dry season. These results suggest that aggression in geladas revolves around belowground foods, which may mean that underground storage organs are an energetically central dietary component (despite being consumed less frequently than grasses), or that even “fallback” foods can influence feeding competition and social relationships. Further work should assess whether aggression in this context is directly associated with high-ranking usurpation of belowground foods from lower-ranking females following extraction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberarad079
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2024


  • aggression
  • dominance
  • geladas
  • graminivory
  • primate ecology
  • sociality
  • socioecology
  • underground storage organs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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