Monday, 22 June 2015

Majority rules when baboons vote with their feet

Date:June 18, 2015

Source:Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

Summary:Olive baboon troops decide where to move democratically, despite their hierarchical social order, according to a new report. At the Mpala Research Centre in Kenya, biologists conducted the first-ever group-level GPS tracking study of primates, finding that any individual baboon can contribute to a troop's collective movement.

'Despite their social status, it's not necessarily the biggest alpha males that influence where groups go,' said Margaret Crofoot, research associate at Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) and assistant professor of anthropology at University of California, Davis (UC Davis). 'Our observations suggest that many or all group members can have a voice, even in highly stratified societies.'

Wild olive baboons (Papio anubis) live in strongly hierarchical troops. Dominant individuals displace subordinates when feeding or mating. However, analyzing the second-by-second GPS trajectories of each individual in a single troop revealed that neither a baboon's rank nor their sex conferred leadership ability. Much to the scientists' surprise, what emerged was almost identical to patterns previously predicted by theoretical models based on the movements of fish schools, bird flocks and insect swarms. Decision making in baboons is largely a shared process: individuals vote with their feet by choosing to lead or follow their troop-mates.

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