Male baboons recognize and care for their own offspring

DURHAM, N.C. -- In a discovery that suggests the fathering instinct might be more fundamental to primate evolution than previously believed, researchers have shown that male baboons give preferential protection to their own genetic offspring.

The finding that male baboons somehow recognize their own genetic offspring -- despite the fact that multiple males may mate with each female in a troop -- also raises important scientific questions about how such recognition occurs, said the researchers who made the discovery.

The research was published in the Sept. 11, 2003, issue of the journal Nature by researchers from Duke University, the National Museum of Kenya, Princeton University, UCLA and the Brookfield Zoo in Illinois. Lead author on the paper is Duke postdoctoral fellow Jason Buchan, and the other co-authors are Duke Assistant Professor of Zoology Susan Alberts, UCLA Professor of Anthropology Joan Silk and Princeton Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Jeanne Altmann. The research was sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the Chicago Zoological Society, the L. S. B. Leakey Foundation and the National Geographic Society.

Said Alberts of the findings, "If male baboons care for their kids -- and baboons are almost among the least likely societies where you would expect to see this -- then it suggests that paternal care has really deep evolutionary roots in primates."

In their research, the scientists studied members of five wild savannah baboon groups in Amboseli, Kenya and adjacent areas near the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro. These groups have been study subjects by scientists for some three decades and have become so habituated to human observers that they basically ignore them.

To determine the genetic heritage of adult males and juveniles, the researchers laboriously collected and analyzed the DNA of fecal samples from the animals. The researchers also observed the males and juveniles over a period of three years between Ju

Contact: Dennis Meredith
Duke University

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