Do we need to reclassify the social systems of gregarious apes?

Cyril C. Grueter, Michael L. Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Decades of research have led to a solid understanding of the social systems of gregarious apes: chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and gibbons. As field studies have increasingly collected data from multiple neighboring habituated groups, genetic and social interconnections have been revealed. These findings provide a more nuanced picture of intergroup relations in apes, and have led to claims in the literature that some ape taxa have multilevel societies. A multilevel society is defined as a nested collection of social entities comprising at least two discernible levels of social integration between the individual and the population. We argue that the evidence for multilevel sociality sensu stricto in apes is currently inconclusive and that it is premature to abandon the traditional classification of ape social systems. However, available findings appear to be consistent with the existence of some degree of higher social grouping patterns. We propose the term supra-group organization which may adequately capture ape social systems when viewed from a top-down perspective.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)316-326
Number of pages11
JournalEvolutionary anthropology
Issue number5
Early online dateAug 3 2021
StatePublished - Sep 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank Carrie Miller and Maud Mouginot for valuable comments on issues about social behavior in geladas and bonobos. We are also grateful for the insightful comments from four anonymous reviewers and Jason Kamilar.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Wiley Periodicals LLC.


  • gibbons
  • great apes
  • intergroup interactions
  • intergroup relationships
  • multilevel society
  • supra-group organization

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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