Having Well-connected Friends Benefits Female Baboons, Study Finds

July 27, 2016

In humans, it’s well documented that having a healthy social life is associated with better physical health. The same is true for baboons: females who have close bonds with other females live longer and have greater reproductive success.

In a new study published in Royal Society Open Science, Dorothy L. Cheney and Robert M. Seyfarth and Joan B. Silk of Arizona State University took a closer look at those “friendships” between female baboons to understand what types of bonds rendered the greatest benefit. Using social network analysis to probe a massive dataset of wild baboons’ social interactions collected during several years in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, they found that females reaped the greatest benefit from friendships with individuals who themselves had close, stable bonds with other females in the group. Having these types of friendships was associated with greater offspring survival.

“There seems to be a strong selective pressure for close, same-sex friendships in these baboons,” said Cheney, professor of biology in Penn’s School of Arts & Sciences. “You can easily imagine that, if you have a friend who herself has a lot of other close friends, you’re indirectly connected to them and could derive benefits from those connections.”

Cheney and Seyfarth have conducted field research on wild baboons in the Okavango Delta since 1992, amassing an intimate, data-driven portrait of the social life of the group.

“The constraint on this type of social network analysis is that it takes years and years to collect the data,” Cheney said. “A baboon doesn’t have her first baby until she is 6 or 7, so to really watch them over generations takes a very long time.”

Click here to read the full article.

Click here to read our OMNIA feature on Cheney and Seyfarth.