Strategic intergroup alliances increase access to a contested resource in male bottlenose dolphins

Richard C. Connor, Michael Krützen, Simon J. Allen, William B. Sherwin, Stephanie L. King

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Efforts to understand human social evolution rely largely on comparisons with nonhuman primates. However, a population of bottlenose dolphins in Shark Bay, Western Australia, combines a chimpanzee-like fission-fusion grouping pattern, mating system, and life history with the only nonhuman example of strategic multilevel male alliances. Unrelated male dolphins form three alliance levels, or "orders", in competition over females: both within-group alliances (i.e., first- and second-order) and between-group alliances (third-order), based on cooperation between two or more second-order alliances against other groups. Both sexes navigate an open society with a continuous mosaic of overlapping home ranges. Here, we use comprehensive association and consortship data to examine fine-scale alliance relationships among 121 adult males. This analysis reveals the largest nonhuman alliance network known, with highly differentiated relationships among individuals. Each male is connected, directly or indirectly, to every other male, including direct connections with adult males outside of their three-level alliance network. We further show that the duration with which males consort females is dependent upon being well connected with third-order allies, independently of the effect of their second-order alliance connections, i.e., alliances between groups increase access to a contested resource, thereby increasing reproductive success. Models of human social evolution traditionally link intergroup alliances to other divergent human traits, such as pair bonds, but our study reveals that intergroup male alliances can arise directly from a chimpanzee-like, promiscuous mating system without one-male units, pair bonds, or male parental care.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2121723119
Pages (from-to)e2121723119
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number36
Publication statusPublished - 6 Sept 2022


Dive into the research topics of 'Strategic intergroup alliances increase access to a contested resource in male bottlenose dolphins'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this