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Behav Ecol Sociobiol. 2013 Jan;67(1):61-68. Epub 2012 Oct 11.

Social monitoring in a multilevel society: a playback study with male Guinea baboons.

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  • 1Cognitive Ethology Laboratory, German Primate Center, Kellnerweg 4, 37077 Göttingen, Germany ; Courant Research Centre "Evolution of Social Behaviour", 37077 Göttingen, Germany.

Abstract

Keeping track of social interactions among conspecifics is a driving force for the evolution of social cognition. How social cognition, such as social knowledge, ties in with a species' social organization is, however, largely unexplored. We investigated the social knowledge of wild Guinea baboons (Papio papio) ranging in Senegal, a species that lives in a fluid multilevel society with overlapping habitat use. Using playback experiments, we tested how adult males differentiate between subjects from their own vs. a neighboring or a stranger social unit ("gang") and assessed ranging patterns with Global Positioning System (GPS) data. While territorial species usually differentiate between group and nongroup members and often respond more strongly to strangers than neighbors (the "dear enemy" effect), subjects in this highly tolerant species should largely ignore other unit members and mainly attend to subjects from their own unit. Males responded strongly after playback of calls recorded from members of their own gang, while they attended only briefly to neighbor or stranger calls. Apparently, males benefit from monitoring the social maneuvers in their own social unit, while it remains to be resolved whether they are unmotivated or unable to keep track of the identities and actions of individuals outside their own gang. The study highlights how the allocation of social attention is tuned to the specifics of a species' social organization, while a complex social organization does not necessarily translate into the need for more elaborate social knowledge.

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