intraspecific variation; monogamy; social system; social variation; socioecological models


Medical Sciences


Intraspecific variability in social systems is gaining increased recognition in primatology. Many primate species display variability in pair-living social organizations through incorporating extra adults into the group. While numerous models exist to explain primate pair-living, our tools to assess how and why variation in this trait occurs are currently limited. Here I outline an approach which: (i) utilizes conceptual models to identify the selective forces driving pair-living; (ii) outlines novel possible causes for variability in social organization; and (iii) conducts a holistic species-level analysis of social behavior to determine the factors contributing to variation in pair-living. A case study on white-faced sakis (Pithecia pithecia) is used to exemplify this approach. This species lives in either male-female pairs or groups incorporating "extra" adult males and/or females. Various conceptual models of pair-living suggest that high same-sex aggression toward extra-group individuals is a key component of the white-faced saki social system. Variable pair-living in white-faced sakis likely represents alternative strategies to achieve competency in this competition, in which animals experience conflicting selection pressures between achieving successful group defense and maintaining sole reproductive access to mates. Additionally, independent decisions by individuals may generate social variation by preventing other animals from adopting a social organization that maximizes fitness. White-faced saki inter-individual relationships and demographic patterns also lend conciliatory support to this conclusion. By utilizing both model-level and species-level approaches, with a consideration for potential sources of variation, researchers can gain insight into the factors generating variation in pair-living social organizations.

Original Citation

Thompson, C. L. (2016). To pair or not to pair: Sources of social variability with white-faced saki monkeys (Pithecia pithecia) as a case study. American Journal of Primatology, 78(5), 561–572.