Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 64, Issue 5, pp 769–781

More than friends? Behavioural and genetic aspects of heterosexual associations in wild chacma baboons


    • CNRS–Institut des Sciences de l’Evolution de MontpellierUniversité Montpellier II
    • Institute of ZoologyZoological Society of London
    • Abteilung Verhaltensökologie und SoziobiologieDeutsches Primatenzentrum
  • Alexandra Alvergne
    • CNRS–Institut des Sciences de l’Evolution de MontpellierUniversité Montpellier II
    • Human Evolutionary Ecology Group, Department of AnthropologyUniversity College London
  • Delphine Féjan
    • CNRS–Institut des Sciences de l’Evolution de MontpellierUniversité Montpellier II
  • Leslie A. Knapp
    • Department of Biological AnthropologyUniversity of Cambridge
  • Guy Cowlishaw
    • Institute of ZoologyZoological Society of London
  • Michel Raymond
    • CNRS–Institut des Sciences de l’Evolution de MontpellierUniversité Montpellier II
Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s00265-009-0894-3

Cite this article as:
Huchard, E., Alvergne, A., Féjan, D. et al. Behav Ecol Sociobiol (2010) 64: 769. doi:10.1007/s00265-009-0894-3


In mammals, fathers are facultative caretakers, and male care is expected to evolve only if it is directed towards related young. Yet, in several promiscuous primate societies, males seem to care for infants despite a presumably low paternity confidence. In cercopithecines, cohesive associations (‘friendships’) between a lactating female and an adult male are frequent and provide the female and her infant with protection against various sources of aggression, including infanticide. However, the benefits gained by males through such relationships remain unclear, in part, because the relatedness between males and their protected infants has rarely been examined. Moreover, little is known about the nature of the cues underlying kin discrimination by males in societies where females mate polyandrously. In this study, we combine behavioural and genetic data from wild chacma baboons (Papio ursinus) in Namibia to investigate (1) whether males are related to their friend’s infant and (2) whether similarity between the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genotype of males and infants (potentially perceived through odour phenotype) favours the establishment of friendships. We first show that males share close genetic ties with their friend’s infants, most often by having sired the infant. Secondly, we find that male–infant MHC (Class II–DRB) similarity, in contrast to paternity, does not predict male–infant associations. Overall, our results clarify the nature of the evolutionary benefits gained by males in these heterosexual associations, which can be considered as true paternal care. However, the proximate mechanisms underlying paternity recognition remain to be identified.


Kin selectionPrimatesInfanticidePaternal investmentPapio ursinusMHC

Supplementary material

265_2009_894_MOESM1_ESM.doc (54 kb)
S1Genetic analyses (DOC 54 kb)
265_2009_894_MOESM2_ESM.doc (56 kb)
Table S2Characteristics of the 17 loci used for parentage analyses, together with the test results for deviation from Hardy–Weinberg equilibrium (using exact U score tests). Ho observed heterozygosity, He expected heterozygosity, NS non-significant, ***p < 0.001 (DOC 56 kb)
265_2009_894_MOESM3_ESM.doc (36 kb)
Table S3Demographic composition of the six baboon groups sampled for genetics (DOC 37 kb)
265_2009_894_MOESM4_ESM.doc (32 kb)
Table S4Assignment of male friends as natal or non-natal in their current troop of residence. All the males listed were already present in the troop at the start of this study. Residency status is defined by the presence in the group for more than a year. See text S1 for details regarding assignments based on genetic data (when demographic information is missing) (DOC 31 kb)
265_2009_894_MOESM5_ESM.doc (122 kb)
Figure S5Distributions of pairwise relatedness (TL) between juveniles and females (DOC 122 kb)

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009