Defining Higher Levels in the Multilevel Societies of Geladas (Theropithecus gelada)

Noah Snyder-Mackler, Jacinta C. Beehner, Thore J. Bergman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

90 Scopus citations


Multilevel societies, identified by two or more nested levels (or modules) of organization, have been touted as some of the most complex social systems. However, few empirical studies have effectively quantified the association patterns that delineate the various levels in such societies. In particular, the multiple levels of gelada society were first described >3 decades ago, yet no operational definitions exist for the higher levels, i. e., levels above the one-male unit. In geladas, multiple units form aggregations that fission and fuse throughout the day, and throughout the year, blurring the distinctions between previously described higher social levels: teams, bands, and communities. Here we use 5 yr of data on the daily composition of a population of geladas living in the Simien Mountains National Park, Ethiopia to test the hypothesis that higher levels of gelada organization are discrete entities. If gelada aggregations are nothing more than a group of units that share a home range, then we expect a continuous distribution of unit association. If, however, gelada aggregations are indeed discrete organizational levels, then we expect discontinuity in the patterns of association. We found significant discontinuity at the 50% association level, indicating a sharp distinction between members of the same band (>50% association) and members of the same community (<50% association). We also found evidence that recently fissioned units form teams that associate significantly more than other band members. Thus, despite their extremely fluid social organization, gelada social levels are nevertheless clearly identifiable and quantifiable. Based on these results, we suggest that gelada society is an extremely flexible, multilevel society with fission-fusion dynamics, and as such gelada society presents an unusual example for understanding the evolution of modular societies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1054-1068
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal of Primatology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Band
  • Community
  • Modular society
  • One-male unit
  • Social organization
  • Team
  • Theropithecus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


Dive into the research topics of 'Defining Higher Levels in the Multilevel Societies of Geladas (Theropithecus gelada)'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this