Caring for infants is associated with increased reproductive success for male mountain gorillas
Socioecological theory predicts that male parenting among mammals should be rare due to the large payoffs of prioritizing mating effort over parenting. Although these predictions are generally met, in some promiscuous primate species males overcome this by identifying their offspring, and providing benefits such as protection and resource access. Mountain gorillas, which often organize into multi-male groups, are an intriguing exception. Males frequently affiliate with infants despite not discriminating their own from other males’ offspring, raising questions about the function of this behavior. Here we demonstrate that, independent of multiple controls for rank, age, and siring opportunities, male gorillas who affiliated more with all infants, not only their own, sired more offspring than males who affiliated less with young. Predictive margins indicate males in the top affiliation tertile can expect to sire approximately five times more infants than males in the bottom tertile, across the course of their reproductive careers. These findings establish a link between males’ fitness and their associations with infants in the absence of kin discrimination or high paternity certainty, and suggest a strategy by which selection could generate more involved male parenting among non-monogamous species.