Award-winning researcher and teacher champion social change

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August 11, 2022

New research shows that female Kinda baboons that have strong social bonds with other female and male baboons, or are more dominant, have babies that become independent faster than others.

They are the smallest of the baboon species, social, and the least aggressive of the other baboons. Hence the name Kinda (kihn-dah), or “kindest,” said India Schneider-Crease, an evolutionary anthropologist at Arizona State University.

Photo courtesy of Megan Petersdorf/Durham University

Schneider-Crease is an assistant professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change and the Center for Evolution and Medicine. She recently published eight years of statistical data showing that the social bonds of Kinda baboons play an important role in the independence of their babies.

“The last decade or two has seen a real surge in interest in examining how social relationships affect human and animal health,” Schneider-Crease said.

She and her fellow researchers examined infant survival, length of interbirth interval (the length of time between births for a female), and infant behavioral maturation (independence from the baboon mother) by relationship with social ties.

The data collected for this project was collected from baboons living in the Kasanka Baboon Project in Kasanka National Park, Zambia. The project is the only long-term project dedicated to the study of Kinda baboons.

Schneider-Crease says the scientists were surprised they found no impact of social ties or dominance rank on infant mortality or birth interval.

“What we’ve seen is an impact of social bonding on infant behavioral maturation,” Schneider-Crease said. “Women who had stronger social ties to other women and men had babies who were more likely to display more independent behaviors at an earlier age. This is relative to women with weaker social ties or a weaker social integration with men and women.”

Dominance ranking is how scientists assess aggressive social interactions, Schneider-Crease explained. The more wins you have, the higher your rank. For baboons, “victories” can include physical movement or combat.

Another surprising aspect of this study was the importance of social bonds with male Kinda baboons, Schneider-Crease said.

“In many primate species, social bonds between females and males are short-lived and related to mating or protection from aggression,” she said. “In Kinda baboons, females maintain social bonds with males outside of these contexts, and this study has shown that one of the benefits of these extended female-male bonds may be in the progression of infants towards independence. .”

To document the independence of baby Kinda, scientists, Zambian employees and research assistants observed how close baby Kinda baboons were to their mothers at different ages.

Video of Kinda Baboons Become Independent Faster If Moms Are Social and Dominant

Video by Steve Filmer/ASU News. Images and clips courtesy of Durham University Lecturer Megan Petersdorf and Columbia University Anthropology student Ruby Mustill.

Schneider-Crease said Kinda babies progress through several behavioral stages on the path to independence, ranging from “tummy riding,” where a baby is held on the mother’s chest right after birth, to gaining mobility but staying close to mother, full independence and spending long periods away from mother.

She said these kinds of insights are only possible with long-term data collection, during which researchers are able to look at broad patterns across many different Kinda mother-child pairs.

“One of the possible benefits of this is that if the infant is able to mature more quickly, they can start feeding independently more quickly,” Schneider-Crease said. “The woman can redirect her energy to maintain her own condition and prepare to become pregnant again and invest in another baby.”

Schneider-Crease’s research focuses on disease ecology and the evolution of infectious diseases in non-human primates. She hopes to do more research and teach about non-aggressive interactions in primates.

“One of the people who brought research into the benefits of social connections to the fore is Professor Joan Silk of ASU Regents,” Schneider-Crease said. “Silk’s work was inspirational for this study, as one of the first people to really investigate the importance of social bonding, not just social aggression, in the lives of primates. .”

The article, “Stronger maternal social ties and higher rank are associated with accelerated infant maturation in Kinda baboons,” is published in Animal Behavior.

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