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the evolution of social behaviour in vervet monkeys: an experimental approach

English title the evolution of social behaviour in vervet monkeys: an experimental approach
Applicant Bshary Redouan
Number 133040
Funding scheme Sinergia
Research institution Institut de Biologie Faculté des Sciences Université de Neuchâtel
Institution of higher education University of Neuchatel - NE
Main discipline Ecology
Start/End 01.01.2011 - 31.05.2014
Approved amount 1'200'000.00
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Keywords (15)

cognition; social learning; cooperation; Machiavellian intelligence; evolution; vervet monkeys; field experiments; vervet monkey; Chlorocebus aethiops; social behaviour; animal cognition; social brain hypothesis; between-group competition; kin selection; tradition

Lay Summary (English)

Lead
Lay summary
Humans are highly social animals. In particular our ability to tolerate and even to cooperate with unrelated individuals appears to be unmatched by other species. A very influential hypothesis links our advanced cognitive abilities to the complexity of our social environment. More generally, it appears that brain size evolution in vertebrates is linked to a species' social complexity. In social species, an individual's main challenge for successful survival and reproduction is competition with fellow group members over access to limited resources like food and mates. At the same time, group members can be important alliance partners against predators and neighbouring groups. Cooperation and conflict are thus the two opposing forces that affect virtually any decision of individuals living in a group, selecting for increased cognitive abilities so that individuals can cope with the complexity of decision making in this dynamic social world. Our Sinergia project aims at testing links between ecology, social organisation, and social intelligence in a population of wild vervet monkeys in South Africa. Two key elements make our project different from previous research. First, we aim at large sample sizes (10 monkey groups) in order to be able to draw general conclusions. Second, we will conduct experiments under natural conditions rather than in the laboratory. Very well designed laboratory experiments on cognitive abilities exist, yet it is difficult to predict the extent to which these mechanisms are used under natural conditions. Sub-project A focuses on the monkeys' ability to show flexible social behaviour adapted to particularities of a situation. We will test what animals know about the relationships between other group members, and in how far they can exploit that knowledge to their advantage. Sub-project B investigates the animals' ability to engage in collective action in between-group conflict. We will investigate the role of genetic relatedness and of contextual factors on the decision to participate, and we will determine the consequences of success in between-group conflict on variables that are linked to reproductive success, like access to food. Sub-project C tests what mechanisms vervet monkeys use for social learning as well as under which conditions, and how innovations spread in the population. All three sub-projects will collaborate in the collection of basic information on home ranges, activity patterns, social behaviours, diet and food tree distribution, and the genetic structure of groups. The combined effort will constitute a world leading project expected to yield unique, novel insights into the social intelligence of wild primates.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
Male monkeys use punishment and coercion to de-escalate costly intergroup fights
Arseneau-Robar T. Jean M., Müller Eliane, Taucher Anouk L., van Schaik Carel P., Bshary Redouan, Willems Erik P. (2018), Male monkeys use punishment and coercion to de-escalate costly intergroup fights, in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 285(1880), 20172323-20172323.
The influence of demographic variation on social network stability in wild vervet monkeys
Borgeaud Christèle, Sosa Sebastian, Sueur Cédric, Bshary Redouan (2017), The influence of demographic variation on social network stability in wild vervet monkeys, in Animal Behaviour, 134, 155-165.
Female vervet monkeys fine-tune decisions on tolerance versus conflict in a communication network
Borgeaud Christèle, Schnider Alessandra, Krützen Michael, Bshary Redouan (2017), Female vervet monkeys fine-tune decisions on tolerance versus conflict in a communication network, in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 284(1867), 20171922-20171922.
Female monkeys use both the carrot and the stick to promote male participation in intergroup fights
Arseneau-Robar T. Jean Marie, Taucher Anouk Lisa, Müller Eliane, van Schaik Carel, Bshary Redouan, Willems Erik P. (2016), Female monkeys use both the carrot and the stick to promote male participation in intergroup fights, in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 283(1843), 20161817-20161817.
Wild Vervet Monkeys Trade Tolerance and Specific Coalitionary Support for Grooming in Experimentally Induced Conflicts
Borgeaud Christèle, Bshary Redouan (2015), Wild Vervet Monkeys Trade Tolerance and Specific Coalitionary Support for Grooming in Experimentally Induced Conflicts, in Current Biology, 25(22), 3011-3016.
Differences in Diet Between Six Neighbouring Groups of Vervet Monkeys
Tournier Emilie, Tournier Virginia, van de Waal Erica, Barrett Alan, Brown Leslie, Bshary Redouan (2014), Differences in Diet Between Six Neighbouring Groups of Vervet Monkeys, in ETHOLOGY, 120(5), 471-482.
Wild vervet monkey infants acquire the food-processing variants of their mothers
van de Waal Erica, Bshary Redouan, Whiten Andrew (2014), Wild vervet monkey infants acquire the food-processing variants of their mothers, in ANIMAL BEHAVIOUR, 90, 41-45.
Negotiations over Grooming in Wild Vervet Monkeys (Chlorocebus pygerythrus)
van de Waal Erica, Spinelli Martina, Bshary Redouan, Ros Albert Frank Huascar, Noe Ronald (2013), Negotiations over Grooming in Wild Vervet Monkeys (Chlorocebus pygerythrus), in INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF PRIMATOLOGY, 34(6), 1153-1171.
Potent Social Learning and Conformity Shape a Wild Primate's Foraging Decisions
van de Waal Erica, Borgeaud Christele, Whiten Andrew (2013), Potent Social Learning and Conformity Shape a Wild Primate's Foraging Decisions, in SCIENCE, 340(6131), 483-485.
Social learning and spread of alternative means of opening an artificial fruit in four groups of vervet monkeys
van de Waal E, Claidiere N, Whiten A (2013), Social learning and spread of alternative means of opening an artificial fruit in four groups of vervet monkeys, in ANIMAL BEHAVIOUR, 85(1), 71-76.
The collective action problem in primate territory economics.
Willems Erik P, Hellriegel Barbara, van Schaik Carel P (2013), The collective action problem in primate territory economics., in Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society, 280(1759), 20130081-20130081.
Third-Party Ranks Knowledge in Wild Vervet Monkeys (Chlorocebus aethiops pygerythrus)
Borgeaud Christele, van de Waal Erica, Bshary Redouan (2013), Third-Party Ranks Knowledge in Wild Vervet Monkeys (Chlorocebus aethiops pygerythrus), in PLOS ONE, 8(3), 1-1.
Detecting movement patterns using Brownian Bridges
Buchin K, Sijben S, Arseneau TJM, Willems E (2012), Detecting movement patterns using Brownian Bridges, in Proceedings of the 20th International Conference on Advances in Geographic Information Systems, SIGS, New York.
Spontaneous emergence, imitation and spread of alternative foraging techniques among groups of vervet monkeys
van de Waal Erica, Whiten Andrew (2012), Spontaneous emergence, imitation and spread of alternative foraging techniques among groups of vervet monkeys, in PLoS One, 7(10), e47008.

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
ASAB winter meeting Talk given at a conference potent social learning in vervet monkeys 06.12.2012 London, Great Britain and Northern Ireland van de Waal Erica; Whiten Andrew;


Awards

Title Year
Niko Tinbergen prize of the Ethological Society for best young scientist (awarded every 2 years) 2014

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
135707 The evolution and maintenance of cooperation between unrelated individuals: integrating ultimate and proximate questions 01.05.2011 Project funding (Div. I-III)
151187 The transmission of traditions in wild primates: an experimental approach with vervet monkeys 01.02.2014 Advanced Postdoc.Mobility
137108 Proximate and ultimate causes of Cooperation 01.05.2012 ProDoc
137165 Partner control mechanisms in pair-wise cooperative interactions: empirically-informed models 01.01.2013 ProDoc

Abstract

The evolution of sociality has become a key research focus in evolutionary biology. One likely reason why so many evolutionary biologists find this question so interesting is that humans are highly social animals. In humans, success depends largely on an individual’s ability to learn from others, to tolerate and even to cooperate with unrelated individuals but also to take advantage of others without them realising. While our social abilities appear to be unmatched by other species, it is important to ask what selection pressures have caused them. It has been hypothesised that in social species, a prime challenge for successful survival and reproduction is competition with fellow group members over access to limited resources like food and mates. At the same time, group members can be important alliance partners in overcoming competitors, predators and neighbouring groups. Cooperation and conflict are thus the two opposing forces that affect virtually any decision, selecting for increased cognitive abilities that help individuals cope with the complexity of decision making in this dynamic social world. In particular, primatologists have studied the links between ecology, social organisation, and social intelligence. Despite great research efforts, however, conclusions remain limited by two main factors. First, field studies on primates have typically been observational and with few exceptions, limited to a small number of study groups. This has constrained our ability to generalise from the observed patterns. Second, very well designed laboratory experiments on cognitive abilities exist, yet it is difficult to predict the extent to which these mechanisms are used under natural conditions. The main reason for these two shortcomings is that field research on most primate species poses significant logistic challenges. However, such shortcomings can be overcome through larger scientific collaborations and by choosing appropriate model species. Our Sinergia grant application to study wild vervet monkeys will be based on large scale field experiments on social behaviour, where we plan to have at least ten study groups habituated to the presence of human observers and followed on a regular basis for basic social and ecological information. Sub-project A focuses on the monkeys’ ability to show flexible social behaviour adapted to particularities of a situation. Sub-project B investigates the animals’ ability to engage in collective action in between-group conflict, and the role of genetic relatedness and contextual factors on the decision to participate, as well as the consequences of success in between-group conflict. Sub-project C tests what mechanisms vervet monkeys use for social learning as well as under which conditions, and how innovations spread in the population. All three sub-projects will collaborate in the collection of basic information on home ranges, activity patterns, social behaviours, diet and food tree distribution, and the genetic structure of groups. Further synergistic effects will be due to similar general research interests of the applicants and the joint habituation and tracking of such a large number of groups. In contrast to other long term field projects we will forsake the long term observational approach necessary to address questions about life history and ecology. Instead, we will conduct a diversity of experiments to explicitly test linked hypotheses concerning the cognitive mechanisms and strategic abilities underlying social behaviour of vervet monkeys. The combined effort will constitute a world leading project expected to yield unique, novel insights into the social intelligence of wild primates.
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