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Male baboons recognize and care for their own offspring

ly 1999 and July 2002. Those observations concentrated on the instances in which adult males protected offspring from aggression by other animals.

Although paternal care certainly encompasses a broader range of behaviors, said Alberts, such protection against aggression is the easiest to observe and quantify. Also, such male protection offers obvious survival advantages for the juveniles, she said.

The sample collections and observations were carried out by Kenyan field assistants Raphael Mututua, Serah Sayialel and Kinyua Warutere.

The scientists analyzed the resulting genetic and behavioral data to determine the interactions between adult males and three different types of juveniles:

  • -- genetically related juveniles that are their offspring
  • -- those juveniles that were the "behavioral offspring" of the males; that is, they were the offspring of females with whom the males had mated, and
  • -- unrelated juveniles.

"We found that males unequivocally gave more protection to those juveniles they had fathered than to those they hadn't," said Alberts. "So that led us to the next question of how can the males tell? It may be that at least one source of information is behavioral. The male might prefer offspring of females that the male had mated with. And if that's the case, then the male might show at least some preference to behavioral offspring -- the kids from females the male had mated with.

"And if there's a behavioral explanation, the males shouldn't differentiate between their genetic and behavioral offspring. However, they did differentiate between these two types of kids very strongly. So the only explanation we're left with is that the males recognize and prefer their genetic offspring."

According to Alberts, previous studies of baboons had not been able to show such paternal care of genetic offspring. For one thing, she said, before DNA analysis, it had been all but impossible to ident
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Contact: Dennis Meredith
dennis.meredith@duke.edu
919-681-8054
Duke University
10-Sep-2003


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