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Social Groups: Baboons Benefit From Living With Fewer Individuals, Researchers Say

Nov 01, 2015 10:37 PM EST
Wild Baboons
Wild baboons benefit from living in smaller groups of about 50 individuals.
(Photo : Flickr: Rod Waddington)

When deciding how many forest mates to bunk with, wild baboons benefit most from intermediate-sized social groups, according to researchers from Stony Brook University. Their study sheds light on the costs and benefits animals face when living within a group. 

"Strikingly, we found evidence that intermediate-sized groups have energetically optimal space-use strategies and both large and small groups experience ranging disadvantages," Dr. Catherine Markham, lead author of the study and an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology at Stony Brook University, said in a news release.

Generally, baboons are very adaptable animals and can be found in a variety of habitats. About 50 individuals make up an intermediate sized group. However, wild baboons can live in groups upwards of 100 members. In the smaller groups, baboons exhibited an optimal ranging behavior and low physiological stress levels, according to the researchers. Ultimately, this encourages a healthy living environment because there is less competition for resources or space. 

For their study, researchers observed five social wild baboon groups in East Africa over 11 years, the release noted. This allowed them to assess the effects of group size and ranging patterns on individuals of each of the five groups. To better understand an individual baboon's stress level, researchers measured the levels of a stress hormone known as glucocorticoid that was found in individual waste droppings. 

"It appears that large, socially dominant groups are constrained by within-group competition whereas small, socially subordinate groups are constrained by between-group competition and/or predation pressures," Markham added in a statement

Their findings may have applications for better evaluating group-sized constraints on other group-living species, and why some other animals prefer to live alone. Their study was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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