A central issue in socioecology is the nature of the relationship between an organism's environment and its social structure. In chimpanzees, the fission-fusion social system is thought to minimize feeding competition for primary dietary components: ephemeral, dispersed patches of ripe fruit. Intragroup feeding competition is thought to force individuals into small parties. Informal observations in the Sonso region of the Budongo forest had suggested that in this habitat, food supply was such that feeding competition was less important in determining grouping patterns than elsewhere. We used data collected on food supply and party sizes over a 4-year period to investigate this suggestion. In accord with theoretical expectation, sizes of foraging parties fluctuated with the size of food patches. However, party sizes showed either negative or no relationship with habitat-wide measures of food abundance. Likewise party sizes showed little relationship to overall measures of food dispersion. For important dietary items, both fruit and leaves had patchy distributions, though the degree of clumping was not strong, and fruit was not more clumped than leaves. Generally, abundant food appeared to be less patchy, and chimpanzees appeared to use more patches as food became more abundant rather than forming larger parties. We suggest that both dispersal and abundance need to be considered when investigating the impact of food supply on grouping patterns, and that the importance of food as a factor in determining chimpanzee grouping patterns declines with increasing levels of abundance.

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