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In primatology, a fission-fusion society is one in which the size and composition of the social group change as time passes and animals move throughout the environment; animals merge (fusion)—e.g., sleeping in one place—or split (fission)—e.g., foraging in small groups during the day. For species that live in fission-fusion societies, group composition a dynamic property.

Species in fission-fusion societies

This form of social organization occurs in several species of primates, though usually less organised and less social than bonobos (e.g., chimpanzees, gorillas, hamadryas, gelada baboons, orangutans,[1] spider monkeys,[2] and humans), African elephants,[3] most carnivores including the spotted hyena,[4] African lion,[5] and cetaceans such as bottlenose dolphins,[6] ungulates such as deer, and fish such as guppies.


These societies change frequently in their size and composition, making up a permanent social group called the "parent group". Permanent social networks consist of all individual members of a faunal community and often varies to track changes in their environment and based on individual animal dynamics.

In a fission-fusion society, the main parent group can fracture (fission) into smaller stable subgroups or individuals to adapt to environmental or social circumstances. For example, a number of males may break off from the main group in order to hunt or forage for food during the day, but at night they may return to join (fusion) the primary group to share food and partake in other activities.

Overlapping of so-called "parent groups" territorially is also frequent, resulting in more interaction and mingling of community members, further altering the make-up of the parent group. This results in instances where, say, a female chimpanzee may generally belong to one parent group, but encounters a male who belongs to a neighboring community. If they copulate, the female may stay with the male for several days and come into contact with his parent group, temporarily "fusing" into the male's community. In some cases, animals may leave one parent group in favor of associating themselves with another, usually for reproductively motivated reasons.

See also


  1. van Schaik, Carel P. (1999). The socioecology of fission-fusion sociality in Orangutans. Biomedical and Life Sciences 40 (1): 69-86.
  2. Ramos-Fernández, Gabriel, Denis Boyer, Vian P. Gómez (August 2006). A complex social structure with fission–fusion properties can emerge from a simple foraging model. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 60 (4): 536-549.
  3. Archie, Elizabeth A., Cynthia J. Moss and Susan C. Alberts (March 2005). The ties that bind: genetic relatedness predicts the fission and fusion of social groups in wild African elephants. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 273: 513-522.
  4. Smith, Jennifer E., Sandra K. Memenis, Kay E. Holekamp (March 2007). Rank-related partner choice in the fission–fusion society of the spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta). Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 61 (5): 753-765.
  5. Lion Research Center Social Behavior > Group Living. University of Minnesota. URL accessed on 23 August 2012.
  6. Lusseau, David, Karsten Schneider, Oliver J. Boisseau, Patti Haase, Elisabeth Slooten and Steve M. Dawson (2003). The bottlenose dolphin community of Doubtful Sound features a large proportion of long-lasting associations: Can geographic isolation explain this unique trait?. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 54 (4): 396-405.
  • Isbell, L.A. & Young, T.P. (1996). "The evolution of bipedalism in hominids and reduced group size in chimpanzees: alternative responses to decreasing resource availability." Journal of Human Evolution. 30:389-397
  • Smith, J. E., Kolowski, J. M., Graham, K. E., Dawes, S.E., and K. E. Holekamp.(2008). "Social and ecological determinants of fission-fusion dynamics in the spotted hyaena." Animal Behaviour 76:619-636.

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