Effects of group size and rank on mother–infant relationships and reproductive success in rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta)

Bo Jun Liu, Cheng Feng Wu, Paul A. Garber, Peng Zhang, Ming Li

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the present study, we compared mother–infant relationships in 57 mother–infant dyads residing in two wild, semi-provisioned (22 mother–infant dyads in 2014, 35 dyads in 2015) groups of rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) in the Nanwan Nature Reserve for Rhesus Macaques, Hainan, China. We also compared reproductive success between these two groups. The ecology and provisioning regime for each group was similar. These groups differed however, in size. Group 1 contained ∼35 individuals and Group 2 contained ∼120 individuals. Data were collected over a 2-year period (2014–2015). We found that during the birth season, mother–infant relationships in the larger group were characterized by less time in contact and more time separated than in the smaller group. Mothers in the smaller group initiated more contact and proximity with their infants. During the mating season when infants were approximately 6 months old, mother–infant relationships in the smaller group were more rejecting. We also found that birth rates were significantly higher but infant survivorship (to 1-year-old) was significantly lower in the smaller group. Moreover, higher-ranking mothers in the larger group were characterized by a higher reproductive output than females of lower rank. In the smaller group, female rank did not affect reproductive output. There was, however, no clear relationship between infant survivorship and maternal rank. We hypothesize that differences in reproductive success and changes in mother–infant relationships between the birth and mating seasons reflect differences in the costs and benefits of group size: females in the larger group faced (i) higher intragroup feeding competition leading to a reduction in birth rate but also (ii) lower predation risk, resulting in higher infant survival rate compared to females in the smaller group. The results of this study point to the tradeoffs that primate females face in living in smaller and larger social groups.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere22881
JournalAmerican journal of primatology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2018


  • group size
  • mother–infant relationship
  • rank
  • reproductive success
  • rhesus macaques

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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