Social relationships and survival in a wild primate population

Susan Alberts, Duke, Biology
Social integration and support can have profound effects on human survival. The extent of this phenomenon in non-human animals is largely unknown, but such knowledge is important to understanding the evolution of both lifespan and sociality. This topic represents a current area of synthesis between the biological and social sciences. I present a brief overview of this topic through the lens of each of these distinct disciplines, then summarize the state of knowledge about the topic as a consequence of these bodies of work. I then report evidence from my research project that levels of affiliative social behavior (i.e., ‘social connectedness’) with both same-sex and opposite-sex conspecifics predict adult survival in wild female baboons. In the Amboseli ecosystem in Kenya, adult female baboons that were socially connected to either adult males or adult females lived longer than females who were socially isolated from both sexes—females with strong connectedness to individuals of both sexes lived the longest. Female social connectedness to males was predicted by high dominance rank, indicating that males are a limited resource for females, and females compete for access to male social partners. To date, only a handful of animal studies have found that social relationships may affect survival. This study extends those findings by examining relationships to both sexes in by far the largest data set yet examined for any animal. Our results support the idea that social effects on survival are evolutionarily conserved in social mammals
February, 2 2015 | 12:30 - 14:00 | Gross Hall 230E

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