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Paternal Care Helps Young Baboons Succeed

Jan 30, 2013 07:19 AM EST
A male chacma baboon sits in the Cape peninsula outside Cape Town, South Africa in this May 9, 2006 file photo.
(Photo : REUTERS/Howard Burditt)

A new study finds that young baboons are more successful when they spend more time with their father.

Baboons live in promiscuous societies, in which a female mates with more than one male. It was previously assumed that paternal care is not common in promiscuous mammals as they could find it difficult to recognize their offspring. Interestingly, a new study by researcher Elise Huchard, of the University of Cambridge, U.K., and her colleagues has found young baboons that share an intimate relationship with their father get better meals and reach sexual maturity sooner.

The research team carried out field work on two groups of chacma baboons (Papio ursinus) in Tsaobis Leopard Park, central Namibia. They marked every single baboon to identify them individually, as the mammals look similar to each other. They observed each juvenile baboon and recorded their activities - how much they ate from each tree or plant, which male was with juveniles and their proximity to them, reports BBC. The team combined data from natural observations and paternity analyses that were performed to determine whether the adult males were the fathers.

They found that the juvenile baboons joined their fathers mostly at feeding time, with the fathers allowing them to access richer food patches. Baboons that foraged with their fathers were more successful than without them. The juveniles spent more time with their fathers when their mother was absent or when another male was around, probably because the fathers could provide protection against potential dangers. Researchers also noticed it was the juveniles, not the fathers, who followed their father everywhere and maintained strong bonds.

"This has been a turning point in our understanding of how baboon fathers interact with their offspring," Huchard said in a statement from PlanetEarth Online. "The males could be spending their time pursuing other mating opportunities, so it is really surprising to see them having such close associations with their offspring."

Huchard and her team are further planning to study why some fathers care more for their offspring than some others, and why some juveniles have strong association with their fathers. "Understanding these patterns in baboons may help understanding the evolutionary origins of individual variations in paternal behaviour in humans," Huchard told BBC.

The findings of the study are published in the journal Behavioural Ecology.

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