Brazen baboons: flighty females disrupt group harmony
Monday 26 October 2009
Female baboons on the look-out for love cause havoc in baboon groups by distracting males and breaking down group cohesion, reports a new study in Animal Behaviour.
Scientists from ZSL's Tsaobis Baboon Project studying groups of chacma baboons (Papio ursinus) in the Namib Desert, discovered that the baboons are more likely to work as a team when there is a higher ratio of pregnant females to single females in the group.
Single females are not shy about advertising their availability and distract the males by displaying their swollen derrieres. This results in males dedicating their time to guarding their new prized mate, which appears to have knock-on effects for the entire group.
Dr Andrew King, lead author on the paper says, "We found that synchrony in our baboon groups was higher when they were travelling in ‘risky’ woodland habitats - this makes sense as it means they are able to stick together and more easily communicate.
"But, surprisingly, we also found that the reproductive states of females played an important role in determining synchrony."
Whilst many single female baboons cause chaos amongst a group, many pregnant females exert a calming influence, because males are not distracted by mating opportunities.
With no males to hassle them the pregnant females can concentrate on foraging to find enough food to meet their increasing appetites, bringing about higher group synchrony.
Working as a cohesive group is important not only for baboons, but all sorts of group-living animals since it allows individuals to detect predators more easily and concentrate on finding enough food to survive.