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Concept: Baboon


Strong evidence indicates that non-human primates possess a numerical representation system, but the inherent nature of that system is still debated. Two cognitive mechanisms have been proposed to account for non-human primate numerical performance: (1) a discrete object-file system limited to quantities <4, and (2) an analog system which represents quantities comparatively but is limited by the ratio between two quantities. To test the underlying nature of non-human primate quantification, we asked eight experiment-naive olive baboons (Papio anubis) to discriminate between number pairs containing small (<4), large (>4), or span (small vs. large) numbers of food items presented simultaneously or sequentially. The prediction from the object-file hypothesis is that baboons will only accurately choose the larger quantity in small pairs, but not large or span pairs. Conversely, the analog system predicts that baboons will be successful with all numbers, and that success will be dependent on numerical ratio. We found that baboons successfully discriminated all pair types at above chance levels. In addition, performance significantly correlated with the ratio between the numerical values. Although performance was better for simultaneous trials than sequential trials, evidence favoring analog numerical representation emerged from both conditions, and was present even in the first exposure to number pairs. Together, these data favor the interpretation that a single, coherent analog representation system underlies spontaneous quantitative abilities in primates.

Concepts: Human, Primate, Drill, Old World monkey, Baboon, Hamadryas Baboon, Gelada, Olive Baboon


Keeping track of social interactions among conspecifics is a driving force for the evolution of social cognition. How social cognition, such as social knowledge, ties in with a species' social organization is, however, largely unexplored. We investigated the social knowledge of wild Guinea baboons (Papio papio) ranging in Senegal, a species that lives in a fluid multilevel society with overlapping habitat use. Using playback experiments, we tested how adult males differentiate between subjects from their own vs. a neighboring or a stranger social unit (“gang”) and assessed ranging patterns with Global Positioning System (GPS) data. While territorial species usually differentiate between group and nongroup members and often respond more strongly to strangers than neighbors (the “dear enemy” effect), subjects in this highly tolerant species should largely ignore other unit members and mainly attend to subjects from their own unit. Males responded strongly after playback of calls recorded from members of their own gang, while they attended only briefly to neighbor or stranger calls. Apparently, males benefit from monitoring the social maneuvers in their own social unit, while it remains to be resolved whether they are unmotivated or unable to keep track of the identities and actions of individuals outside their own gang. The study highlights how the allocation of social attention is tuned to the specifics of a species' social organization, while a complex social organization does not necessarily translate into the need for more elaborate social knowledge.

Concepts: Psychology, Sociology, Knowledge, Global Positioning System, Old World monkey, Baboon, GPS, Guinea Baboon


Language is a distinguishing characteristic of our species, and the course of its evolution is one of the hardest problems in science. It has long been generally considered that human speech requires a low larynx, and that the high larynx of nonhuman primates should preclude their producing the vowel systems universally found in human language. Examining the vocalizations through acoustic analyses, tongue anatomy, and modeling of acoustic potential, we found that baboons (Papio papio) produce sounds sharing the F1/F2 formant structure of the human [ɨ æ ɑ ɔ u] vowels, and that similarly with humans those vocalic qualities are organized as a system on two acoustic-anatomic axes. This confirms that hominoids can produce contrasting vowel qualities despite a high larynx. It suggests that spoken languages evolved from ancient articulatory skills already present in our last common ancestor with Cercopithecoidea, about 25 MYA.

Concepts: Evolution, Language, Primate, Acoustics, Vowel, Old World monkey, Baboon, Guinea Baboon


Hominins are generally considered eclectic omnivores like baboons, but recent isotope studies call into question the generalist status of some hominins. Paranthropus boisei and Australopithecus bahrelghazali derived 75%-80% of their tissues' δ(13)C from C4 sources, i.e. mainly low-quality foods like grasses and sedges. Here I consider the energetics of P. boisei and the nutritional value of C4 foods, taking into account scaling issues between the volume of food consumed and body mass, and P. boisei’s food preference as inferred from dento-cranial morphology. Underlying the models are empirical data for Papio cynocephalus dietary ecology. Paranthropus boisei only needed to spend some 37%-42% of its daily feeding time (conservative estimate) on C4 sources to meet 80% of its daily requirements of calories, and all its requirements for protein. The energetic requirements of 2-4 times the basal metabolic rate (BMR) common to mammals could therefore have been met within a 6-hour feeding/foraging day. The findings highlight the high nutritional yield of many C4 foods eaten by baboons (and presumably hominins), explain the evolutionary success of P. boisei, and indicate that P. boisei was probably a generalist like other hominins. The diet proposed is consistent with the species' derived morphology and unique microwear textures. Finally, the results highlight the importance of baboon/hominin hand in food acquisition and preparation.

Concepts: Metabolism, Nutrition, Energy, Eating, Baboon, Hominina, Paranthropus, Paranthropus boisei


Social information allows the rapid dissemination of novel information among individuals. However, an individual’s ability to use information is likely to be dependent on phenotypic constraints operating at three successive steps: acquisition, application, and exploitation. We tested this novel framework by quantifying the sequential process of social information use with experimental food patches in wild baboons (Papio ursinus). We identified phenotypic constraints at each step of the information use sequence: peripheral individuals in the proximity network were less likely to acquire and apply social information, while subordinate females were less likely to exploit it successfully. Social bonds and personality also played a limiting role along the sequence. As a result of these constraints, the average individual only acquired and exploited social information on.

Concepts: Person, Old World monkey, Baboon, Fibonacci number, Chacma Baboon


A new partial cranium (UW 88-886) of the Plio-Pleistocene baboon Papio angusticeps from Malapa is identified, described and discussed. UW 88-886 represents the only non-hominin primate yet recovered from Malapa and is important both in the context of baboon evolution as well as South African hominin site biochronology. The new specimen may represent the first appearance of modern baboon anatomy and coincides almost perfectly with molecular divergence date estimates for the origin of the modern P. hamadryas radiation. The fact that the Malapa specimen is dated between ~2.026-2.36 million years ago (Ma) also has implications for the biochronology of other South African Plio-Pleistocene sites where P. angusticeps is found.

Concepts: Primate, Anatomy, Drill, Old World monkey, Baboon, Hamadryas Baboon, Gelada, Cercopithecinae


A range of species exploit anthropogenic food resources in behaviour known as ‘raiding’. Such behavioural flexibility is considered a central component of a species' ability to cope with human-induced environmental changes. Here, we study the behavioural processes by which raiding male chacma baboons (Papio ursinus) exploit the opportunities and mitigate the risks presented by raiding in the suburbs of Cape Town, South Africa. Ecological sampling and interviews conducted with ‘rangers’ (employed to manage the baboons' space use) revealed that baboons are at risk of being herded out of urban spaces that contain high-energy anthropogenic food sources. Baboon-attached motion/GPS tracking collars showed that raiding male baboons spent almost all of their time at the urban edge, engaging in short, high-activity forays into the urban space. Moreover, activity levels were increased where the likelihood of deterrence by rangers was greater. Overall, these raiding baboons display a time-activity balance that is drastically altered in comparison to individuals living in more remote regions. We suggest our methods can be used to obtain precise estimates of management impact for this and other species in conflict with people.

Concepts: Risk, Old World monkey, Baboon, Hamadryas Baboon, Chacma Baboon


Conflicts of interest about where to go and what to do are a primary challenge of group living. However, it remains unclear how consensus is achieved in stable groups with stratified social relationships. Tracking wild baboons with a high-resolution global positioning system and analyzing their movements relative to one another reveals that a process of shared decision-making governs baboon movement. Rather than preferentially following dominant individuals, baboons are more likely to follow when multiple initiators agree. When conflicts arise over the direction of movement, baboons choose one direction over the other when the angle between them is large, but they compromise if it is not. These results are consistent with models of collective motion, suggesting that democratic collective action emerging from simple rules is widespread, even in complex, socially stratified societies.

Concepts: Sociology, Navigation, Global Positioning System, Society, Baboon, Global navigation satellite system, Positioning system, Radio navigation


Culture pervades human life and is at the origin of the success of our species. A wide range of other animals have culture too, but often in a limited form that does not complexify through the gradual accumulation of innovations. We developed a new paradigm to study cultural evolution in primates in order to better evaluate our closest relatives' cultural capacities. Previous studies using transmission chain experimental paradigms, in which the behavioural output of one individual becomes the target behaviour for the next individual in the chain, show that cultural transmission can lead to the progressive emergence of systematically structured behaviours in humans. Inspired by this work, we combined a pattern reproduction task on touch screens with an iterated learning procedure to develop transmission chains of baboons (Papio papio). Using this procedure, we show that baboons can exhibit three fundamental aspects of human cultural evolution: a progressive increase in performance, the emergence of systematic structure and the presence of lineage specificity. Our results shed new light on human uniqueness: we share with our closest relatives essential capacities to produce human-like cultural evolution.

Concepts: Psychology, Human, Mammal, Primate, Anthropology, Behavior, Old World monkey, Baboon


In aggressive interactions, game theory predicts that animals should assess an opponent’s condition relative to their own prior to escalation or retreat. Despite the benefits of such mutual assessment, few studies have been able to reject simpler assessment strategies. Here we report evidence for mutual assessment in a wild primate. Gelada (Theropithecus gelada) males have conspicuous loud calls that may function as a signal of male quality. “Leader” males with harems putatively use loud calls to deter challenges from non-reproductive “bachelor” males. By contrast, leader males pose no threat to each other and congregate in large groups for a dilution effect against bachelors. In playback experiments and natural observations, gelada males responded to loud calls according to both their own and their opponent’s attributes. Although primates routinely classify others relative to themselves using individual attributes, this represents some of the first direct evidence for mutual assessment in primate signaling contests.

Concepts: Human, Primate, Old World monkey, Baboon, Gelada, Cercopithecinae, Papionini