Male and female aggression: Lessons from sex, rank, age, and injury in olive baboons

Holly A. MacCormick, Daniel R. MacNulty, Anna L. Bosacker, Clarence Lehman, Andrea Bailey, D. Anthony Collins, Craig Packer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


Aggression is ubiquitous, influencing reproduction through inter-and intraspecific effects in ways that reflect life-history strategies of species. In many social mammals, females remain in their natal group for life, whereas males emigrate and compete for rank in other social groups. Competition for rank is inherently risky. Therefore, it has long been hypothesized that risks of injury depend on an individual's sex, rank, and age in ways that maximize an individual's reproductive output. However, studies quantifying such risks have been lacking. We analyzed 20 years of long-term data on wounds among olive baboons (Papio anubis) in Gombe National Park, Tanzania. Males received significantly more wounds than female baboons, and both sexes received the most wounds at ages when they competed most intensely for rank. Immature females received more wounds than immature males in their natal groups, and immature females were more likely to be wounded by females than were immature males. Males in their natal group were wounded less often than immigrant males of the same age. The risk of wounding did not depend on rank in females but rose with rank in immigrant males. Lastly, females received significantly more wounds when cycling (not pregnant or lactating). This study is among the first to quantify the risk of injury for competitors of different sexes, ages, and ranks in social groups. Our results support the prediction that individuals target aggression toward present and future competitors and suggest that sexual coercion increases the risk of wounding in cycling females.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)684-691
Number of pages8
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Drs Anne Pusey, Aimee S. Dunlap, Donald Siniff, Dawn M. Kitchen, Ian Gilby, and Michael Wilson for their invaluable feedback and discussion on this manuscript. For insightful comments, we especially thank Anna E. MacCormick, Phillip L. Wharton Jr, Moe Khosravy, and Nicole Thometz. We are deeply indebted to 2 anonymous reviewers whose thoughtful comments elevated and transformed our manuscript. We thank Bernard Kissui, Deus Mjungu, and Thaddus Shio for assistance with translation of data from Kiswahili to English; Drs Lynn E. Eberly and Pete Raimondi for insights on statistical methods; the government of Tanzania, including the Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH), Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI), and Tanzanian National Parks (TANAPA) for permission to conduct this long-term research. Many people have contributed to the collection, organization, and maintenance of long-term demographic data on the Gombe baboons, most notably Applonaire Sindimwo and all of the baboon field assistants. Long-term data collection on baboons was supported by the Jane Goodall Institute and grants from the Physical Anthropology program at NSF, and we thank both for their support.


  • Papio anubis
  • competition
  • injury
  • life history
  • olive baboon
  • rank


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