Sex and dominance: How to assess and interpret intersexual dominance relationships in mammalian societies

Peter M. Kappeler, Elise Huchard, Alice Baniel, Charlotte Canteloup, Marie J.E. Charpentier, Leveda Cheng, Eve Davidian, Julie Duboscq, Claudia Fichtel, Charlotte K. Hemelrijk, Oliver P. Höner, Lee Koren, Jérôme Micheletta, Lea Prox, Tommaso Saccà, Lauren Seex, Nikolaos Smit, Martin Surbeck, Erica van de Waal, Cédric Girard-Buttoz

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11 Scopus citations


The causes and consequences of being in a particular dominance position have been illuminated in various animal species, and new methods to assess dominance relationships and to describe the structure of dominance hierarchies have been developed in recent years. Most research has focused on same-sex relationships, however, so that intersexual dominance relationships and hierarchies including both sexes have remained much less studied. In particular, different methods continue to be employed to rank males and females along a dominance hierarchy, and sex biases in dominance are still widely regarded as simple byproducts of sexual size dimorphism. However, males and females regularly compete over similar resources when living in the same group, and sexual conflict takes a variety of forms across societies. These processes affect the fitness of both sexes, and are mitigated by intersexual hierarchies. In this study, we draw on data from free-ranging populations of nine species of mammals that vary in the degree to which members of one sex dominate members of the other sex to explore the consequences of using different criteria and procedures for describing intra- and intersexual dominance relationships in these societies. Our analyses confirmed a continuum in patterns of intersexual dominance, from strictly male-dominated species to strictly female-dominated species. All indices of the degree of female dominance were well correlated with each other. The rank order among same-sex individuals was highly correlated between the intra- and intersexual hierarchies, and such correlation was not affected by the degree of female dominance. The relative prevalence of aggression and submission was sensitive to variation in the degree of female dominance across species, with more submissive signals and fewer aggressive acts being used in societies where female dominance prevails. Thus, this study provides important insights and key methodological tools to study intersexual dominance relationships in mammals.

Original languageEnglish
Article number918773
JournalFrontiers in Ecology and Evolution
StatePublished - 29 Jul 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2022 Kappeler, Huchard, Baniel, Canteloup, Charpentier, Cheng, Davidian, Duboscq, Fichtel, Hemelrijk, Höner, Koren, Micheletta, Prox, Saccà, Seex, Smit, Surbeck, van de Waal and Girard-Buttoz.


We would like to thank colleagues who contributed ideas or suggestions during the various discussions and exchanges that led to the setup of the study, as well as two referees for their constructive comments, and Christof Neumann for fruitful discussions. The Kokolopori Bonobo Research Project thanks the ICCN, Bonobo Conservation Initiative and Vie Sauvage for their support of the study, the Ministry of Scientific Research and Technology in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for the permission to work in the DRC, the people of the villages of Bolamba, Yete, Yomboli, and Yasalakose for granting access to their forest, all local and international field assistants for their support in the field, as well as Harvard University and the Max-Planck Society for funding the project. The Tsaobis Baboon Project is grateful to the volunteers from 2013 and 2014 for collecting behavioral data. This research was carried out with the permission of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, the Ministry of Land Reform, and the National Commission on Research, Science, and Technology. We further thank the Tsaobis beneficiaries for permission to work at Tsaobis, the Gobabeb Namib Research Institute and Training Centre for affiliation, and Johan Venter and the Snyman and Wittreich families for permission to work on their land. This article is n° ISEM 2022-144. The Mandrillus Project is grateful to the past and present field assistants who collected behavioral data and to the SODEPAL-COMILOG society (ERAMET group) for their long-term logistical support. This is a Project Mandrillus publication number 27. This study was approved by an authorization from the CENAREST institute (permit number, AR0060/18/MESRS/CENAREST/CG/CST/CSAR). The Inkawu Vervet Project (IVP) thanks the van der Walt family for permission to conduct the study on their land and the whole IVP team for their help and support in the field. The Macaca Nigra Project in Tangkoko thank all team members, especially Antje Engelhardt and Jan-Boje Pfeifer. We thank Joko Pamungkas from the Primate Research Centre, Muhammad Agil and Perwitasari Farajallah from the Institute Pertanian Bogor University for supporting our stay in Indonesia. We gratefully acknowledge the permission of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, the Directorate General of Forest Protection and Nature Conservation and the Department for the Conservation of Natural Resource, North Sulawesi, particularly Pak Domingus and Pak Yunus, to conduct research in the Tangkoko Reserve. The Kirindy Forest Lemur Project thanks the Malagasy Ministry of the Environment, the University of Antananarivo and the CNFEREF Morondava for authorizing our work, and the Kirindy field assistants for help with data collection. The Ein Gedi rock hyrax sociality project is grateful for the hospitality and logistic support from the Ein Gedi Field School and the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve. The Ngorongoro Hyena Project thanks the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology, the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute, and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority for permission to conduct the study, and Bettina Wachter and Philemon Naman for long-term behavioral and demographic monitoring of the eight spotted hyena clans. EH was funded by the ANR ERS-17-CE02-0008, 2018-2021 during the write-up of Tsaobis Baboon Project. Kokolopori Bonobo Research Project is funded by the Harvard University, Max-Planck Society. Project Mandrillus is funded by the SEEG Lekedi and LIA (INEE-CNRS) to MC, Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR SLEEP 17-CE02-0002 to MC and ANR ERS-17-CE02-0008, 2018-2021 to EH), Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, KA 1082-20-1) to PK and MC, as well as by the State Scholarships Foundation (IKY) under the scholarship program from the proceeds of the “Nic. D. Chrysovergis” bequest to NS. Inkawu vervet project is funded by the Fyssen Foundation (granted to CC) and the Swiss National Science Foundation (31003A_159587 and PP00P3_170624) along with the Branco Weiss Fellowship—Society in Science (granted to EW). Macaca nigra Project is funded by the German Research Council within the Emmy-Noether programme, the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and the German Academic Exchange Service (to Antje Engelhardt), by the Volkswagen Stiftung (to JD) and the University of Portsmouth (to JM). Ein Gedi rock hyrax sociality project was funded by the Israel Science Foundation and United States-Israel Binational Science Foundation (2015088). Ngorongoro Hyena Project is funded by the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research; Werner Dessauer Stiftung.

FundersFunder number
Bonobo Conservation Initiative
Werner Dessauer Stiftung
Harvard University
University of Portsmouth
Diabetes Research Connection
Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst
Deutsche ForschungsgemeinschaftKA 1082-20-1
Volkswagen Foundation
Agence Nationale de la Recherche17-CE02-0002, ERS-17-CE02-0008, 2018-2021
Branco Weiss Fellowship – Society in Science
Schweizerischer Nationalfonds zur Förderung der Wissenschaftlichen Forschung31003A_159587, PP00P3_170624
United States-Israel Binational Science Foundation2015088
Fondation Fyssen
State Scholarships Foundation
Israel Science Foundation
Bundesministerium für Wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung
Ministry of Science Research and Technology
Leibniz-Institut für Zoo- und Wildtierforschung


    • dominance
    • hierarchy
    • mammals
    • methodology
    • sex


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