In recent years, an increasing amount of research has been devoted to examining the importance of mate choice by females in primate sexual relationships. However, our understanding of female mate choice is limited due to the difficulty of teasing apart effects of female choice from effects of male behavior which may influence female mate choice. For example, evidence from numerous nonhuman primate species suggests that females are constrained in expressing their mating preferences due to male strategies that involve aggressive exclusion of rivals and sexual coercion of females. Because female mate choice will often be constrained by male tactics, it is difficult to ascertain whether a particular act represents the female's preference, or a compromise between her interests and those of males. This research will involve an experimental study on captive savanna baboons in order to investigate female mating preferences in the absence of male opportunities to coerce females or exclude rival males. This will be accomplished by comparing male-female interactions in a naturalistic outdoor group setting and an experimental condition in which females are given an opportunity to associate and mate with a choice of males in the absence of male tactics. If females' choices of mates are constrained significantly by male behavior, they should associate and mate with different males and/or a greater number of males under experimental conditions than naturalistic group conditions. The proposed research is one of the first attempts to examine nonhuman primate female mate choice experimentally and the first study in a nonhuman primate to investigate the extent to which male mating tactics constrain female mate choice. This experimental paradigm also provides a unique opportunity for validating female preference signals. By comparing females' behavior in the outdoor group setting with their behavior during experimental mate-choice trials, the researchers will determine whether any behaviors exhibited by estrous females in the naturalistic group setting are reliable indicators of female mating preferences for particular males (i.e. female preference signals).

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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Mark L. Weiss
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University of Michigan Ann Arbor
Ann Arbor
United States
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