Cowl, V. B., Walker, S. L., Shultz, S. 2021. Reproductive males are effective at managing conflict in captive Sulawesi crested macaques (Macaca nigra). American Journal of Primatology 83(7), e23266.
Group size, density, and composition significantly influence the expression of agonism and, as demography is frequently manipulated in captivity, natural mechanisms of conflict management may be disrupted. Here, we examine how changes to the social and physical environment of a captive group of Sulawesi crested macaques, Macaca nigra, influenced mechanisms of conflict management. The initial group was comprised of females, juveniles, and castrated males; under a series of management interventions, the group was moved to a new enclosure, 75% of the castrated adult males were removed, 67% of the females were contracepted, a novel, intact male was introduced, and the group was allowed access to an outdoor enclosure. Despite a decreasing trend in aggression following the changes to the social group, we found no significant differences in aggression or intervention behavior in the 5-week periods immediately following changes to the social group, apart from a significant decrease in aggression following the introduction of the novel male. This decrease in the frequency of aggression was still evident 10 weeks after the interventions occurred, and was coupled with a decrease in the intensity of aggression. Moreover, the intensity of aggression as well as the frequency of aggression and intervention were significantly lower under low-density conditions. Our results highlight how management changes to the social and physical environment can influence aggressive behavior, albeit following a period of acclimation. We discuss the relative impacts of social group composition, social density, and individual reproductive status on the management of conflict behavior in a captive setting.