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Professor studies sociality in baboons

| Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A new study has found that social interactions are not just important for humans, but for baboons as well.

Elizabeth Archie, Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor in the Department of Biological Science, conducts a massive study on hundreds of wild female baboons, analyzing the animals’ social group activities.

The project is run in conjunction with a team of scientists from some of the country’s most prestigious universities, including Duke University and Princeton University, according to a University press release.

The project, founded in 1971 by Archie’s collaborator Jeanne Altmann, takes place in southern Kenya in the Amboseli National Park.

“[The park] is a grassy savannah dotted with a few trees, with lots of other wildlife,” Archie said.

According to a University press release, the team uses a vast array of data, dating back to 1984, regarding the social relationships of wild female baboons.

Archie lives on site for about two months of the year.

“I love visiting the baboons because it’s like checking in on the latest episode of my favorite TV drama,” Archie said. “I get to find out who died, who had a baby, or who rose or fell in social rank.

“I’ve always been interested in animal social relationships and how social interactions in animals compare to those in humans.”

The team attempts to analyze how groups of wild female baboons successfully solve a variety of daily tasks.

“Animals have to solve a series of problems in their lives, including finding food, escaping from predators and mating,” Archie said. “Animals utilize social relationships to help them solve these problems.”

Archie’s current research aims to correlate a relationship between social interactions and extended life spans.

According to a University press release, Archie’s analysis of the data set has found female and male baboons both lived longer when they had strong social connections.

“These results suggest that social effects on life span are not unique to humans,” Archie said.

Archie’s team’s findings also relate to other social mammals, such as rats and dolphins.

“There have been a handful of studies that have shown that an animal’s social connections can predict their longevity,” she said. “Our results help confirm this phenomenon in mammals and suggest it might be widely shared across several social species.”

Archie’s team hopes to extend their research into male baboons, but this is a surprisingly difficult process.

“Female baboons live in the same social group for their whole lives, so when they disappear from the group, we can be pretty certain that they died,” Archie said.

Archie also said that males do not demonstrate the same pack mentality, and thus it is more difficult to keep track of them.

With such groundbreaking research, Archie hopes that her team’s results will be applicable to future human social research.

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About Peter Durbin

Peter is a Junior Science-Business major from Prospect Heights, Illinois. He enjoys sports, music, and all things Quentin Tarantino.

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