Nepotistic cooperation in non-human primate groups

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94 Scopus citations


Darwin was struck by the many similarities between humans and other primates and believed that these similarities were the product of common ancestry. He would be even more impressed by the similarities if he had known what we have learned about primates over the last 50 years. Genetic kinship has emerged as the primary organizing force in the evolution of primate social organization and the patterning of social behaviour in non-human primate groups. There are pronounced nepotistic biases across the primate order, from tiny grey mouse lemurs (Microcebus murinus) that forage alone at night but cluster with relatives to sleep during the day, to cooperatively breeding marmosets that rely on closely related helpers to rear their young, rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatto) females who acquire their mother's rank and form strict matrilineal dominance hierarchies, male howler monkeys that help their sons maintain access to groups of females and male chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) that form lasting relationships with their brothers. As more evidence of nepotism has accumulated, important questions about the evolutionary processes underlying these kin biases have been raised. Although kin selection predicts that altruism will be biased in favour of relatives, it is difficult to assess whether primates actually conform to predictions derived from Hamilton's rule: br > c. In addition, other mechanisms, including contingent reciprocity and mutualism, could contribute to the nepotistic biases observed in non-human primate groups. There are good reasons to suspect that these processes may complement the effects of kin selection and amplify the extent of nepotistic biases in behaviour.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3243-3254
Number of pages12
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1533
StatePublished - Nov 12 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Altruism
  • Cooperation
  • Kin recognition
  • Kin selection
  • Primate

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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