Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Social mothers appear to be better mothers


Primping and passing time with peers may serve a serious purpose, suggests a new study by a UCLA-led team of primate researchers.

The more time wild female baboons spend in the company of other adult baboons, particularly while occupied with grooming activities, the more likely their offspring are to live until their first birthday, the team reports in the Nov. 14 issue of Science.

"Until now, social scientists assumed that because females invest a lot in social relationships, they must gain a lot from those relationships, but we’ve never been able to make a direct link to reproductive success," said Joan B. Silk, the study’s lead author. "These findings provide the first evidence that there’s a link between the amount of social involvement and having offspring who survive the critical first year of life."

The connection is noteworthy because "reproductive success is the gold standard in evolutionary biology," said Silk, an anthropology professor in UCLA College. "A trait can’t really be determined to have an evolutionary advantage unless it has a positive impact on reproductive performance. Socializing and grooming are traits that help baboons pass along their genes."

Along with evolutionary biologists from Duke and Princeton Universities, Silk pored over 16 years of data collected in Kenya’s Amboseli Basin, which is located at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Since 1984, researchers have measured the social behavior of more than 100 wild savannah baboon females, recording daytime activities six days a week in 10-minute intervals.

Among the resulting 34,000 records of discrete activities, Silk’s team looked for examples of social behavior among female baboons, including the propensity to spend time within at least 15 feet of another adult and to groom other females or to allow other females to pick dirt, ticks and other parasites from their own hair.

The researchers then studied each baboon’s reproductive history, including all pregnancies, births and deaths.

The most social females enjoyed a reproductive success rate that was about one-third higher than the least social females, the team found.

"It’s increasingly apparent that social skills are of great importance in the evolution of primates," said Mark L. Weiss, a program director at the National Science Foundation, which helped fund the research. "These researchers have not only demonstrated just how important it is for mothers to be social, they also demonstrate the great importance of supporting long investigations of natural populations so that we can appreciate the long-term consequences of the animals’ activities."

The gregarious primates live in large, mixed-sex groups with clearly defined dominance hierarchies, or pecking orders. In many primate groups, high rank enhances reproductive success. Nevertheless, the researchers found that strong social bonds improved infant survival, regardless of the mother’s position in the pecking order.

Because droughts and other ecological conditions also affect reproductive performance, the team took care to compare females living in the same habitat and at the same time.

"We don’t exactly know how sociality helps females, but our data make it very clear that females who are more social have higher infant survival," said Susan C. Alberts, an assistant professor of biology at Duke University.

Additional research is needed to determine just why social interaction improves infant survival rates, but the team speculates that the proximity of company may deter predators. More elusive benefits may also be at work said the primatologists, citing research that has shown the value of social support for humans.

"Social isolation increases the risk of disease, accidents and a range of mental disorders, and the disruption of social ties due to death, divorce or separation is a major source of stress," the study notes.

Although infant survival rates in humans have yet to be linked directly with social factors, research has shown that low-income women with extensive social networks give birth to heavier infants -- a key marker of viability -- than their more isolated peers.

It’s not clear whether social interaction provides baboons the same benefits as humans, the researchers said. But research has shown that social integration among male baboons in Amboseli reduces basal levels of the hormone cortisol, a key marker of stress. Grooming has also been shown to reduce heart rate in some monkey species.

Nevertheless, the amount of time that baboons spend grooming -- some devote as much as 10 percent of the day to the activity -- is striking, particularly given the demands of life in the wild. Socializing with males may offer direct advantages, because some close male associates tend to shield females from harassment, support their offspring in conflicts with others and even protect infants from predators.

"We take it for granted that women socialize, but when you stop and think about what it means to be social from a biological point of view, the benefit isn’t clear," Silk said. "But in nature, animals compete with one another, and baboons have a really tough life. They spend most of their time of walking from one food site to another, eating as much as they can as quickly as they can, which leaves them with little free time. So if they place a premium on social interactions, there has to be some kind of benefit."

Since baboons share a long evolutionary history with humans, their behavior is thought to provide a window into human nature, particularly among human ancestors.

"In baboon social interaction, we see the roots of the human inclination to come together in families and stable communities," Silk said. "Being social seems to go back very far back in our evolutionary history."


The third author was Princeton evolutionary biologist Jeanne Altmann, who co-directs the Amboseli Baboon Research Project with Alberts.

In addition to the National Science Foundation, the project received support from the Leakey Foundation, National Geographic Society and Brookfield Zoo.

Meg Sullivan | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht North and South Cooperation to Combat Tuberculosis
22.03.2018 | Universität Zürich

nachricht Researchers Discover New Anti-Cancer Protein
22.03.2018 | Universität Basel

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Researchers Discover New Anti-Cancer Protein

An international team of researchers has discovered a new anti-cancer protein. The protein, called LHPP, prevents the uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells in the liver. The researchers led by Prof. Michael N. Hall from the Biozentrum, University of Basel, report in “Nature” that LHPP can also serve as a biomarker for the diagnosis and prognosis of liver cancer.

The incidence of liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma, is steadily increasing. In the last twenty years, the number of cases has almost doubled...

Im Focus: Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1

In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.

Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...

Im Focus: Alliance „OLED Licht Forum“ – Key partner for OLED lighting solutions

Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.

They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

Im Focus: Tiny implants for cells are functional in vivo

For the first time, an interdisciplinary team from the University of Basel has succeeded in integrating artificial organelles into the cells of live zebrafish embryos. This innovative approach using artificial organelles as cellular implants offers new potential in treating a range of diseases, as the authors report in an article published in Nature Communications.

In the cells of higher organisms, organelles such as the nucleus or mitochondria perform a range of complex functions necessary for life. In the networks of...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

Generation of a Stable Biradical

22.03.2018 | Life Sciences

Scientists develop a room temperature maser to amplify weak signals

22.03.2018 | Life Sciences

Jacobs University supports new mapping of Mars, Mercury and the Moon

22.03.2018 | Earth Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>