Conservationists with the Wildlife Conservation Society have found that larger male gorillas living in the rainforests of Congo seem to be more successful than smaller ones at attracting mates and even raising young. The study, conducted over a 12-year period, is providing new insight into the pressures that influence gorilla behavior.
Researchers looked at three key physical characteristics: overall body length, the size of the adult male’s head crest, and the size of an individual’s gluteal muscles on the animal’s posterior. They then compared these measurements with data on the number of mates each male had over the research period.
They found a strong correlation between the three physical attributes and the number of mates the individual had. In other words, the bigger the adult male, the more mates it had.
"Our findings of correlations between physical traits and male reproductive success could be considered evidence of a selection process in gorillas, but it is not yet proof,” said Breuer, the lead author of the study. “More studies would be necessary to determine the links between morphology and fitness in this and other long-lived species."
Though not conclusive, the research may be able to help conservationists looking to better protect gorillas—both in Congo's national parks and elsewhere in the world.