Dictatorship runs rife in baboon societies

November 21st, 2008 - 2:17 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Nov 21 (ANI): When it comes to making decisions about where to eat, baboon society is no democracy, according to a new study.

Instead, most baboons in a group will follow their leader to a dining spot of his choosing, even if that choice means significantly less food than might have otherwise been the case.

Researchers said that the findings challenge theories predicting that “democratic” rather than “despotic” decisions will be widespread among social animals since they should result in the lowest costs to individuals in the group as a whole.

“Leadership in baboons appears to work for the very reason that leaders can provide considerable benefits to followers. Despite short-term costsin this case, less foodfollowers may gain considerable long-term benefits, like reduced risk of being eaten by a leopard, Andrew King of the Institute of Zoology (Zoological Society of London) and University College London.

In the study, the researchers supplied wild baboons with experimental food patches. Those patches were arranged to create foraging benefits amongst group members that were highly skewed relative to the benefits of naturally occurring food resources.

Thus, the patches offered consistent incentives for a minority of dominant individuals to lead, and they resulted in consensus costs for the majority of followers.

Both baboon groups tested consistently visited the experimental food patch in preference to natural patches, indicating that despotic group decisions were the norm.

“Baboons follow their leader to the experimental food patches we provided them with despite the fact that they get, on average, less food than if they all chose to eat elsewhere. So, there must be something else going on,” King said.

Indeed, they found that the baboons who followed the leader most closely were the leader’’s closest “friends” the individuals the leader spent most time grooming and being groomed by.

The researchers therefore suggest that the benefits of following the leader relate to other advantages that come with strong social ties.

While the new findings offer important new insight into baboon society, they may also lend us insight into principles of leadership in our own lives and in the business world.

The study is published in the November 20th issue of Current Biology. (ANI)

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