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Infant Killing in Primates: A Review of Observed Cases with Specific Reference to the Sexual Selection Hypothesis

Thad Q. Bartlett, Robert W. Sussman and James M. Cheverud
American Anthropologist
New Series, Vol. 95, No. 4 (Dec., 1993), pp. 958-990
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the American Anthropological Association
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/683025
Page Count: 33
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Infant Killing in Primates: A Review of Observed Cases with Specific Reference to the Sexual Selection Hypothesis
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Abstract

Discussion of infant killing in free-ranging primates has focused on the sexual selection hypothesis developed by Hrdy during the mid-1970s. This hypothesis suggests that infant killing is a form of sexual competition whereby an infanticidal male gains a reproductive advantage by selectively killing the offspring of his male rivals. Despite criticisms that the evidence in support of the hypothesis is distorted by misinterpretation of data and observer bias, the sexual selection hypothesis, bolstered in part by additional reports of infanticide in a variety of species, has become entrenched as the primary explanatory hypothesis for primate infanticide. However, the majority of reliably documented instances of infanticide in primates come from a very small number of species, and a careful examination of the specific context of each of these episodes fails to support the interpretation of infanticide as a primatewide adaptive complex. Most importantly, the atmosphere of generalized inter- and intrasexual aggression that surrounds the majority of infant killings obscures the evolutionary significance of this behavior.

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