Monkeying Around With the Animal Model

This summer I’ll be looking at the degree to which social behavior is heritable in the Amboseli populations of baboons, including the age at first groom and age at first agonism of maturing baboons. Because age at first groom is correlated with baboon survival and thus fitness (see below,) we’re really curious to see the extent to which this behavior is determined by genetics.

The problem is that there are plenty of cofactors that can basically confuse statistical models we use to interpret our data. It’s difficult to know if one mother’s offspring tend to groom earlier because of their genetics or because they have higher access to resources because of their mother’s social position or because they have more maternal aunts, for example. Because of the statistical noise that all of these covariables introduce into standard linear models, we use something called the animal model to increase the statistical power of our tests by accounting for the possiblity of this covariation.

Something I’m especially looking forward to investigating is if the heritability of social behavior varies between various groups of studied baboons in the Amboseli basin. Because it lies at the boundary between Papio cynocephalus and P. anubis, most baboons there are hybrids to some degree. While we know that more anubis-like individuals experience competitive advantage against their more cynocephalus-like neighbors, it’s not clear why this is the case. Regardless, understanding the causes of this could be important to predicting demographic trends of baboon populations in East Africa.

Baboon distribution in Africa. Note that P. anubis and P. cynocephalus meet in Kenya. Photo courtesy of ResearchGate.

Relevant Papers:

  1. Alberts S.C. 2019. Social influences on survival and reproduction: Insights from a long‐term study of wild baboons. Journal of Animal Ecology 88:47–66,
  2. Silk J.B., Alberts S.C., Altmann J. 2003. Social bonds of female baboons enhance infant survival Science 302:1231-1234
  3. Archie E.A., Tung, J. Clark M., Altmann J., Alberts S.C. 2014. Social affiliation matters: both same-sex and opposite-sex relationships predict survival in wild female baboons. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 281:20141261
  4. Kruuk Loeske E. B. 2004. Estimating genetic parameters in natural populations using the ‘animal model’ Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B359873–890
  5. Charpentier, M.J.E., Fontaine, M.C., Cherel, E., Renoult, J.P., Jenkins, T., Benoit, L., Barthès, N., Alberts, S.C. and Tung, J. (2012), Genetic structure in a dynamic baboon hybrid zone corroborates behavioural observations in a hybrid population. Molecular Ecology, 21: 715-731.

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