Groundbreaking study by Field Museum scientists explains mane variation in lions

CHICAGO--An article appearing in the current issue of the Journal of Zoology sheds light on several longstanding misconceptions regarding the controversial topic of mane variability among wild lions. This comprehensive scientific assessment of mane variation--including "manelessness"--is a first and took nearly seven years to complete.

According to the overall findings of the study, wild lions generally develop manes in accordance with local climate regimes. In Equatorial east Africa, climate is determined by elevation. Thus lions with the most profuse manes occur at the upper limit of their altitudinal range, while similar aged males in the lowest and warmest environments like Tsavo typically carry only modest or scanty manes.

However, the authors also found, paradoxically, that the majority of lions in regions like the greater Tsavo ecosystem (which is famed for its "maneless" lions), did appear to acquire respectable manes, eventually, contrary to most recent popular and scientific accounts of the lions from that region.

"We knew about the climate/elevation correlation since we were the first to publish those preliminary results in GEO 2001, but this new development really threw us for a loop," says Tom Gnoske, of the Field Museum's Zoology Department and senior author of the paper. "However once we analyzed all of the statistical data we found a very strong correlation linking increased age and continued mane development, a significant variable ignored by all previous authors."

Statistical data from this study demonstrates that the onset of mane development in lions living below an altitude of 800 meters on or near the equator is delayed, and that the "rate" or speed at which a mane develops in lions from those regions is slower on average than that of the more familiar lions living in the cooler, higher altitudes of the greater Serengeti ecosystem and elevated plains extending northward, suc

Contact: Greg Borzo
Field Museum

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