MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL--Male lions with the darkest and longest manes suffer from the African heat more than their blonder or shorter-maned compatriots, but when rival males threaten or females are checking out potential suitors, the dark and--to a lesser extent--shaggy fellows clean up, according to a new study by University of Minnesota researchers. Although it has long been known that lions living at relatively high altitudes grow longer manes, the work is the first to tie mane length and color to temperature as a determining factor and to show the mane's role in shaping interactions with other adult lions. The study, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, will be published in the Aug. 23 issue of Science.
Manes vary from light blond to black and can be up to a foot long. Maneless adult males occasionally are observed in the Serengeti Plain of Tanzania, and lions in Kenya's Tsavo National Park are mostly maneless. But males of two subspecies now extinct in the wild, the Barbary lion of the Atlas Mountains and the Cape lion of mountainous regions of South Africa, sported giant dark manes that covered their stomachs.
"On a broad scale, it's been known for at least a century that lions in colder climates have long dark manes," said Peyton West, a graduate student in the College of Biological Sciences' department of ecology, evolution and behavior and first author of the study. "But no one knew why lions had manes or why there was variation within specific populations. We wanted to find the costs and benefits to individuals of having a big or dark mane."
Manes may offer protection in a fight, but West and her adviser, Distinguished McKnight University Professor Craig Packer, suspected that a more important function is to intimidate other males. This would be an obvious advantage to male lions in defending their prides against potential rivals. Also, a male that advertises his ability to defend a pride and its cubs should appear Page: 1 2 3 Related biology news :1
Contact: Deane Morrison
University of Minnesota
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