Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Baboon Fathers Really Do Care About Their Kids

11.09.2003


NSF-funded study suggests paternal care may be ancient trait in primates


A father baboon cares for one of its own offspring as another juvenile displays what researchers consider "agonistic behavior," though a baboon kid might call it "bothering me."
Photo by Joan Silk, UCLA


Paternal care among baboons includes a father providing refuge to one of his offspring as another juvenile approaches.
Photo by Joan Silk, UCLA.



In a finding that surprised researchers, a recent three-year study of five baboon groups at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro in Kenya reveals that baboon fathers overwhelming side with their offspring when intervening in disputes.

The study, which appears in the Sept. 11 issue of the journal Nature, was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Chicago Zoological Society, the L.S.B. Leakey Foundation and the National Geographic Society.


Not that baboons have a bad-dad reputation, but their links to females and immature baboons is rather loose by primate standards. For example, females and males have multiple mating partners, and they do not form permanent bonds with each other.

According to one of the study’s authors, biologist Susan Alberts of Duke University, “This means your average male baboon has much less certainty about which kids he fathered than your average male gorilla, for instance.”

The fact that paternal care -- the tendency for males to care for their own offspring -- runs so strongly through baboons suggests that such care “may be a very ancient evolved trait in the primate lineage,” Alberts said.

The study’s co-authors include Duke biologist Jason Buchan, University of California at Los Angeles anthropologist Joan B. Silk and Princeton University biologist Jeanne Altmann.

To identify true paternal care in a complex primate society, the project needed to determine paternity for many infants. To do this without disturbing the population meant collecting baboon feces and then, with a protocol adapted from the study of human stools, isolating and comparatively analyzing the DNA within it.

Such genetic information, Altmann said, is essential to know “if what’s going on is truly paternal care.”

Silk, who heads another NSF project that focuses on the adaptive value of social bonds among female baboons, said it has long been known that many primate males are dedicated fathers.

“Up until now,” she said, “the best candidates for ‘Dad of the Year’ awards come from species that maintain long-term pair bonds, like the siamang and owl monkeys.”

That the more promiscuous, less committed baboons also vie for such honors suggests that “a capacity for paternal care is not tightly linked to social organization,” said Silk. Rather, she said, it may be a “fundamental element” of male reproductive strategies among primates.

“Humans,” Silk said, “represent another species with high paternal investment.”

The study, which hinged on data collected by three Kenyan research assistants and cooperation with the Kenyan government, monitored 75 juvenile baboons for whom fathers were clearly identified through comparisons of DNA in fecal samples. About half of the juveniles still shared social groups with their fathers. The observers also identified 15 adult males who lived in groups that included their own offspring and unrelated juveniles; all but three of the 15 provided more care to their own kin.

From July 1999 to July 2002, the observers witnessed 73 disputes in which a male intervened in a dispute between one of his offspring and an unrelated baboon; and in 69 of those conflicts, fathers sided with their offspring.

While the biologists were able to analyze DNA samples from baboon scats to identify the players, it remains unclear exactly how baboon fathers identify their offspring.

They probably rely upon “multiple cues,” the researchers believe. “That is,” said Alberts, “they use any information they can to estimate their own paternity.”

An adult male, for example, may associate his monopolization of the mother’s fertile period with the baboons born soon thereafter, which is considered a behavioral cue. Or he may rely on phenotypic cues, ones based on observable characteristics derived from the offspring’s specific genetic code, such as physical appearance or an odor.

According to Jane Brockmann, who directs NSF’s animal behavior research program, “This study puts together the behavior and physiology of individuals with the genetic and demographic structure of groups and populations. It will substantially increase our understanding of the evolution of complex social behavior.”

NSF’s physical anthropology office jointly funds the project.

It is, Brockmann said, the latest chapter in an ongoing 31-year study that has followed six generations from 11 baboon troops, representing more than 1,000 individuals. By developing innovative, non-invasive ways to collect hormonal and genetic data, and by developing a shared database of behavior, Altmann and Alberts, she said, have allowed new questions to be studied and have helped train many university students in Kenya and the U.S.

With continued NSF support, Alberts and Altmann plan to examine more baboon questions of their own: Does the presence of a father affect whether an infant or juvenile survives? How do father-offspring relationships form? Could it be that mothers play a role by selecting for friendly fathers in the first place?

“These relationships,” said Altmann, “probably can form in a variety of ways.”

To learn more, she and Alberts will examine physiological factors associated with baboon behaviors and life history by using fecal analysis to assess variations in levels of reproductive and stress hormones.

Silk, meanwhile, wants to see what causes variations among the size and composition of social relationships among female baboons. “And adult males,” she said, “may be an important part of females’ social networks.”




NSF Animal Behavior program directors:
H. Jane Brockmann, (703) 292-7862, hbrockma@nsf.gov
Michael D. Greenfield, (703) 292-8421, mgreenfi@nsf.gov

NSF Physical Anthropology program director:
Mark L. Weiss, (703) 292-7321, mweiss@nsf.gov

Principal Investigators:
Jeanne Altmann, professor, ecology and evolutionary biology, Princeton University, (609) 258-3814, altj@princeton.edu, web page: http://www.eeb.princeton.edu/FACULTY/Altmann_J/altmannj.htm

Susan Alberts, assistant professor, biology, Duke University, (919) 660 7272, alberts@duke.edu, webpage: http://www.biology.duke.edu/research_by_area/eeob/alberts.html

Joan Silk, professor, anthropology, University of California at Los Angeles, (310) 825-2655, jsilk@anthro.ucla.edu, web page: http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/anthro/faculty/silk/index.htm

For more information, see the following:

Amboseli Baboon Research Project web site, which includes video material from the Public Broadcasting Service: http://www.princeton.edu/~baboon

Sean Kearns | NSF
Further information:
http://www.nsf.gov/od/lpa/news/03/pr0395.htm
http://www.eeb.princeton.edu/FACULTY/Altmann_J/altmannj.htm
http://www.princeton.edu/~baboon

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Scientists uncover the role of a protein in production & survival of myelin-forming cells
19.07.2018 | Advanced Science Research Center, GC/CUNY

nachricht NYSCF researchers develop novel bioengineering technique for personalized bone grafts
18.07.2018 | New York Stem Cell Foundation

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Future electronic components to be printed like newspapers

A new manufacturing technique uses a process similar to newspaper printing to form smoother and more flexible metals for making ultrafast electronic devices.

The low-cost process, developed by Purdue University researchers, combines tools already used in industry for manufacturing metals on a large scale, but uses...

Im Focus: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

A smart safe rechargeable zinc ion battery based on sol-gel transition electrolytes

20.07.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Reversing cause and effect is no trouble for quantum computers

20.07.2018 | Information Technology

Princeton-UPenn research team finds physics treasure hidden in a wallpaper pattern

20.07.2018 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>