Male power over females is not the default social dynamic in primates, the study says

Male power over females is not the default social dynamic in primates, the study says

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Power between the sexes is highly variable in primates. Colored boxes indicate the type of gender power reconstructed for ancestral nodes in the ASR analysis of separate power categories. In each box, the width of the color band (red = dominant male, green = co-dominant, blue = dominant female) is proportional to the scaled probability of each strength class occurring in the node. The character status of the last common ancestor of the clade (LCA) is unambiguous when the box is a solid color. Extant taxa with unbiased male strength are highlighted on the right (green = dominant, blue = dominant female). Key nodes are identified in capital letters. *Identifies nodes with scaled probability ≥0.95 for a single energy class occurring in the node. Male-biased strength is more likely in the LCA in Anthropoidea, while female-biased strength is more likely in the LCA in Lemuriformes. Greater uncertainty exists for LCA in primates, Strepsirrhini, and Haplorhini. If the LCA of anthropoidea shows male-biased strength (scaled probability = 0.844), then different human taxa that do not show male-biased strength and document >7 transitions to non-male-biased strength could potentially be derived. credit: the animals (2023). DOI: 10.3390/ani13233695

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Power between the sexes is highly variable in primates. Colored boxes indicate the type of gender power reconstructed for ancestral nodes in the ASR analysis of separate power categories. In each box, the width of the color band (red = dominant male, green = co-dominant, blue = dominant female) is proportional to the scaled probability of each strength class occurring in the node. The character status of the last common ancestor of the clade (LCA) is unambiguous when the box is a solid color. Extant taxa with unbiased male strength are highlighted on the right (green = dominant, blue = dominant female). Key nodes are identified in capital letters. *Identifies nodes with scaled probability ≥0.95 for a single energy class occurring in the node. Male-biased strength is more likely in the LCA in Anthropoidea, while female-biased strength is more likely in the LCA in Lemuriformes. Greater uncertainty exists for LCA in primates, Strepsirrhini, and Haplorhini. If the LCA of anthropoidea shows male-biased strength (scaled probability = 0.844), then different human taxa that do not show male-biased strength and document >7 transitions to non-male-biased strength could potentially be derived. credit: the animals (2023). DOI: 10.3390/ani13233695

Male dominance has long been assumed to be almost universal in primates, with female strength seen as a rare exception to this rule. However, according to researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, female-biased power structures or social equality between the sexes can be found within every major primate group and may have existed throughout evolutionary history.

The study was published in the journal the animalschallenges assumptions of male dominance in primates and may also have implications for other animal species.

The team reviewed previous literature on 79 primate species, divided them into male-dominated, female-dominated, or co-dominant categories, and then analyzed variables associated with these social patterns.

They found that male-biased strength is more likely to evolve in species where males have larger body sizes and longer canine teeth than their female counterparts. Female power may emerge when the supply of available mating partners is less than the demand of males, giving females in those species greater social influence, especially if size differences between the sexes are small.

“In the past, primatologists have often focused on the role of males and male power in primate societies,” said Rebecca Lewis, professor of anthropology and co-author of the research. “What has sometimes been overlooked is the important role that female power plays in primate societies. Our work suggests that more forms of economic power may actually come to the fore in primate species in which males and females are similar in size and thus females are less coercive than Before males.”

Among primates, female power structures are commonly seen in lemurs. Previous researchers have often tried to explain this occurrence as an anomaly resulting from unique environmental factors. However, the new study draws attention to the existence of female-biased and egalitarian power structures within several additional primate species, such as gibbons in Southeast Asia and apes in the Americas.

In addition, the study was able to estimate the potential for male-biased authority in primate ancestral groups. The study found that there is no particular pattern of gender strength that can be confidently attributed to the ancestors of many major groups of primates, and therefore, the assumption of male-biased ancestral strength is not justified.

“Primates are thought to be mainly male-dominated, suggesting that male dominance has been present in primates since early in their evolutionary history,” said Chris Kirk, a professor of anthropology at the University of Texas and co-author. “If this assumption is correct, what is to be explained is the emergence of female-dominated societies and those with greater gender equality.”

“However, we have shown that this assumption of ancestral male-biased power in primates is not necessarily supported by the data. In fact, other types of power relations between the sexes are common enough in primate societies that it is not clear what the ancestral status might have been.” Thus, all types of gender power need to be explained, not just the existence of female-biased power.

more information:
Rebecca J. Lewis et al., Evolutionary patterns of power between the sexes, the animals (2023). DOI: 10.3390/ani13233695

Magazine information:
the animals

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