, Volume 64, Issue 5, pp 769-781
Date: 23 Dec 2009

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

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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.