Sex differences in cooperative coalitions: a mammalian perspective

Jennifer E. Smith, Adrian V. Jaeggi, Rose K. Holmes, Joan B. Silk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


In group-living species, cooperative tactics can offset asymmetries in resource-holding potential between individuals and alter the outcome of intragroup conflicts. Differences in the kinds of competitive pressures that males and females face might influence the benefits they gain from forming intragroup coalitions. We predicted that there would be a female bias in intragroup coalitions because females (1) are more like to live with kin than males are, and (2) compete over resources that are more readily shared than resources males compete over. We tested this main prediction using information about coalition formation across mammalian species and phylogenetic comparative analyses. We found that for nearly all species in which intragroup coalitions occur, members of both sexes participate, making this the typical mammalian pattern. The presence and frequency of female or male coalitions were not strongly associated with key socio-ecological factors like resource defensibility, sexual dimorphism or philopatry. This suggests that once the ability to form intragroup coalitions emerges in one sex, it is likely to emerge in the other sex as well and that there is no strong phylogenetic legacy of sex differences in this form of cooperation. This article is part of the theme issue 'Cooperation among women: evolutionary and cross-cultural perspectives'.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20210426
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1868
StatePublished - Jan 16 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • coalition
  • collective action
  • comparative social evolution
  • hierarchy
  • intervention
  • sex differences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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