, Volume 63, Issue 7, pp 1015-1021

Cyclicity in the structure of female baboon social networks

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There is an established and very influential view that primate societies have identifiable, persistent social organizations. It assumes that association patterns reflect long-term strategic interests that are not qualitatively perturbed by short-term environmental variability. We used data from two baboon troops in markedly different habitats over three consecutive seasons to test this assumption. Our results demonstrate pronounced cyclicity in the extent to which females maintained differentiated relationships. When food was plentiful, the companionships identified by social network analysis in the food-scarce season disappeared and were replaced by casual acquaintanceships more representative of mere gregariousness. Data from the fourth, food-scarce, season at one site indicated that few companions were re-united. It is likely that this reflected stochastic variation in individual circumstances. These results suggest that attention could profitably be paid to the effects of short-term local contingencies on social dynamics, and has implications for current theories of primate cognitive evolution.

Communicated by J. Krause
This contribution is part of the special issue “Social Networks: new perspectives” (Guest Editors: J. Krause, D. Lusseau and R. James).