Kinship and Dominance Rank Influence the Strength of Social Bonds in Female Geladas (Theropithecus gelada)

Abstract

In many primates, close social relationships are associated with lower stress, better health, and increased life span. However, individuals do not form bonds indiscriminately; rather, they focus on a few primary partners. This suggests that the identity of the partner may be as important as the bond itself. Although dominance and kinship have repeatedly emerged as salient predictors of female relationships, most of this research comes from species with multimale, multifemale groups and strict dominance hierarchies. Further, kinship was typically determined based on either behavior or on known mother–daughter relationships alone. To understand the generality of previous findings, we use behavioral and genetic sampling to examine whether dominance rank and/or genetic relatedness mediate female social bonds in geladas (Theropithecus gelada) living in the Simien Mountains National Park, Ethiopia. First, we found that, even though females in the same unit are closely related, female geladas still preferentially bond with the closest of these relatives. Second, females that were close kin formed the strongest bonds with females of similar rank to themselves. Finally, rank disparity predicted grooming rates but did not predict whether females were nearest neighbors. This suggests that, in contrast with data from other cercopithecines, spatial proximity among females may be less indicative of strong social bonds for geladas, a species that routinely exhibits a high degree of spatial overlap with extra-unit individuals. Together, these results highlight the importance of combining genetic data with detailed behavioral observations to help us understand how individuals choose and interact with social partners.

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Acknowledgments

We thank, first, the guest editors, Dr. Lauren Brent and Dr. Amanda Melin, for inviting us to participate in this timely special issue on primate behavior and genetics. Second, we thank the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority and the wardens and staff of the Simien Mountains National Park for granting us permission to conduct this research. We also could not have done this research without all the tireless data collection from all members of the University of Michigan Gelada Research Project across the years. Funding for this research was provided by the National Science Foundation (BCS-0715179, BCS-0824592, BCS-0962118), the Leakey Foundation, the National Geographic Society (Grant no. 8100-06), the University of Michigan, and the University of Pennsylvania. Drs. David Pappano and Eila Roberts gave thoughtful comments on an earlier draft of the manuscript. This research was approved by the University Committee on Use and Care of Animals (UCUCA no. 09554) at the University of Michigan and the University of Pennsylvania Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC no. 802996), and adhered to the laws and guidelines of Ethiopia.

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Correspondence to Elizabeth Tinsley Johnson.

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Elizabeth Tinsley Johnson and Noah Snyder-Mackler contributed equally to this work.

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Tinsley Johnson, E., Snyder-Mackler, N., Beehner, J.C. et al. Kinship and Dominance Rank Influence the Strength of Social Bonds in Female Geladas (Theropithecus gelada). Int J Primatol 35, 288–304 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10764-013-9733-5

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Keywords

  • Composite sociality index
  • Elo-rating
  • Grooming
  • Proximity
  • Relatedness
  • Theropithecus gelada