Fission–fusion society

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In ethology, 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 into a group (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 is a dynamic property.

This social organization is found in several primates, elephants, cetaceans, ungulates, social carnivores, some birds[1] and some fish.


This form of social organization occurs in several species of primates (e.g. chimpanzees[2] and bonobos, hamadryas baboons, geladas, orangutans,[3] spider monkeys,[4] and humans), African elephants,[5] gregarious carnivorans like the coyote[6], spotted hyena,[7][8] African lion,[9] and cetaceans such as bottlenose dolphins,[10] ungulates such as deer, plains zebras,[11] giraffes,[12] birds such as the great tit[13] 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 to associate themselves with another, usually for reproductive reasons.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kendra, Sewall (2015). "Social Complexity as a Driver of Communication and Cognitiion". Integrative and Comparative Biology. 55 (3): 384-395. doi:10.1093/icb/icv064. Retrieved November 25, 2017.
  2. ^ 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. doi:10.1006/jhev.1996.0034.
  3. ^ van Schaik, Carel P. (1999). "The socioecology of fission-fusion sociality in Orangutans" (PDF). Biomedical and Life Sciences. 40 (1): 69–86. doi:10.1007/BF02557703.
  4. ^ 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" (PDF). Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. Springer-Verlag. 60 (4): 536–549. arXiv:q-bio/0511040. doi:10.1007/s00265-006-0197-x.
  5. ^ Archie, Elizabeth A.; Cynthia J. Moss; 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. doi:10.1098/rspb.2005.3361. PMC 1560064. PMID 16537121.
  6. ^ Flores, Dan (2016). Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History. New York: Basic Books. p. 288. ISBN 978-0465052998.
  7. ^ 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)" (PDF). Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. Springer-Verlag. 61 (5): 753–765. doi:10.1007/s00265-006-0305-y. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-04-25.
  8. ^ Smith, J. E.; Kolowski, J. M.; Graham, K. E.; Dawes, S.E.; Holekamp, K. E. (2008). "Social and ecological determinants of fission-fusion dynamics in the spotted hyaena". Animal Behaviour. 76: 619–636. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2008.05.001.
  9. ^ Lion Research Center. "Social Behavior > Group Living". University of Minnesota. Archived from the original on 29 July 2012. Retrieved 23 August 2012.
  10. ^ Lusseau, David; Karsten Schneider; Oliver J. Boisseau; Patti Haase; Elisabeth Slooten; 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. doi:10.1007/s00265-003-0651-y.
  11. ^ Rubenstein, D. I. & M. Hack (2004) Natural and sexual selection and the evolution of multi-level societies: insights from zebras with comparisons to primates. pp. 266–279. In: Sexual Selection in Primates: New and Comparative Perspectives. P. Kappeler and C. P. van Schaik (eds.). Cambridge University Press.
  12. ^ Bercovitch, F. B.; Berry, P. S. M. (2013). "Herd composition, kinship and fission–fusion social dynamics among wild giraffe". African Journal of Ecology. 51 (2): 206–216. doi:10.1111/aje.12024.
  13. ^ Alpin, L.M; Farine, D.R.; Morand-Ferron, J.; Cole, E.F.; Cockburn, A.; Sheldon, B.C. (2013). "Individual personalities predict social behaviour in wild networks of great tits (Parus major)" (PDF). Ecology Letters. 16: 1365–1372. doi:10.1111/ele.12181. Retrieved 7 December 2017.