Public Release: 

Baboon study reveals surprises, breaks ground in tracking behavior

Study was the first to use GPS tracking with a large group of primates

University of California - Davis

Baboons live in a strongly hierarchical society, but the big guys don't make all the decisions.

A new study from the University of California, Davis, reveals -- through GPS tracking -- that animals living in complex, stratified societies make some decisions democratically. The study breaks ground in how animal behavior data is collected.

The study is being published Friday (June 19) in Science.

"It's not necessarily the biggest alpha males that influence where groups go," said co-author Meg Crofoot, assistant professor of anthropology at UC Davis. "Our results illustrate an important distinction between social status and leadership, and show that democratic decision-making takes place even in highly stratified societies.

"The question we are really trying to tackle with this research is how social animals living in complex societies make decisions. Now we have data about group decision-making in social systems that are complex in many of the ways human societies are complex."

This study was the first to use GPS tracking with a large group of primates. Researchers fitted 25 olive baboons -- nearly the whole troop -- with GPS tracking collars for two weeks. The field work was done in late 2012 at the Mpala Research Center in Kenya.

The GPS units were able to pinpoint within a quarter of a meter the location of each animal at the rate of one location per second resulting in 20 million GPS data points.

"We can closely examine how they are responding to one another," Crofoot said. "These technological advances are giving us unprecedented windows into the lives of group-living of animals."

The technology provided insights never before available.

"Patterns of collective movement in baboons are remarkably similar to models that can predict the movements of fish, birds and insects, which can be predicted using a simple set of rules such as 'follow your neighbor,'" said Damien Farine, co-author of the study and a postdoctoral fellow at UC Davis.

"Decision-making in complex societies may not be all that different than that in animals with more simple societal structures," Crofoot said. "They may all be playing by the same rules."

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The study was done through The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute for which Crofoot is a research associate.

Full study at Science:

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/348/6241/1358

Online photos:

http://photos.ucdavis.edu/albums.php?albumId=635856

Video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O4o2m6o2IK4&feature=youtu.be

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