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Hohmann, G. and Fruth, Barbara (2000): Use and function of genital contacts among female bonobos. In: Animal Behaviour, Vol. 60: pp. 107-120

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Female bonobos, Pan paniscus, show a mounting behaviour that differs physically from that in other primate species. They embrace each other ventroventrally and nib their genital swellings against each other. We investigated five hypotheses on the function of ventroventral mounting (genital contacts) that derive from previous studies of both primate and nonprimate species: (1) reconciliation;(2) mate attraction;(3) tension regulation;(4) expression of social status;and (5) social bonding. We collected data in six field seasons (1993-1998) from members of a habituated, unprovisioned community of wild bonobos at Lomako, Democratic Republic of Congo. No single hypothesis could account for the use of genital contacts, which appeared to be multifunctional. We found support for hypotheses 1 and 3. Rates of postconflict genital contacts exceeded preconflict rates suggesting that the display is used in the context of reconciliation. Rates of genital contacts were high when food could be monopolized and tension was high. However, genital contacts also occurred independently of agonistic encounters. Our study shows rank-related asymmetries in initiation and performance of genital contacts supporting the social status hypothesis: low-ranking females solicited genital contacts more often than high-ranking females while the latter were more often mounter than mountee. Although subordinates took more initiative to achieve genital contact, dominants mostly responded to the solicitation (ventral presentation) with mounting, indicating that the performance benefits both individuals. We suggest that genital contacts can be used to investigate both quality and dynamics of dyadic social relationships among female bonobos. (C) 2000 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour.

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