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Am J Primatol. 2012 Oct;74(10):915-25. doi: 10.1002/ajp.22044. Epub 2012 Jun 11.

Hierarchical steepness, counter-aggression, and macaque social style scale.

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Graduate Program in Ecology Evolution & Behavior, State University of New York at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY, USA.


Nonhuman primates show remarkable variation in several aspects of social structure. One way to characterize this variation in the genus Macaca is through the concept of social style, which is based on the observation that several social traits appear to covary with one another in a linear or at least continuous manner. In practice, macaques are more simply characterized as fitting a four-grade scale in which species range from extremely despotic (grade 1) to extremely tolerant (grade 4). Here, we examine the fit of three core measures of social style-two measures of dominance gradients (hierarchical steepness) and another closely related measure (counter-aggression)-to this scale, controlling for phylogenetic relationships. Although raw scores for both steepness and counter-aggression correlated with social scale in predicted directions, the distributions appeared to vary by measure. Counter-aggression appeared to vary dichotomously with scale, with grade 4 species being distinct from all other grades. Steepness measures appeared more continuous. Species in grades 1 and 4 were distinct from one another on all measures, but those in the intermediate grades varied inconsistently. This confirms previous indications that covariation is more readily observable when comparing species at the extreme ends of the scale than those in intermediate positions. When behavioral measures were mapped onto phylogenetic trees, independent contrasts showed no significant consistent directional changes at nodes below which there were evolutionary changes in scale. Further, contrasts were no greater at these nodes than at neutral nodes. This suggests that correlations with the scale can be attributed largely to species' phylogenetic relationships. This could be due in turn to a structural linkage of social traits based on adaptation to similar ecological conditions in the distant past, or simply to unlinked phylogenetic closeness.

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