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1.  The neuroethology of friendship 
Friendship pervades the human social landscape. These bonds are so important that disrupting them leads to health problems, and difficulties forming or maintaining friendships attend neuropsychiatric disorders like autism and depression. Other animals also have friends, suggesting that friendship is not solely a human invention but is instead an evolved trait. A neuroethological approach applies behavioral, neurobiological, and molecular techniques to explain friendship in terms of its underlying mechanisms, development, evolutionary origins, and biological function. Recent studies implicate a shared suite of neural circuits and neuromodulatory pathways in the formation, maintenance, and manipulation of friendships across humans and other animals. Health consequences and reproductive advantages in mammals additionally suggest that friendship has adaptive benefits. We argue that understanding the neuroethology of friendship in humans and other animals brings us closer to knowing fully what it means to be human.
PMCID: PMC4045505  PMID: 24329760
friendship; cognition; ethology; social networks; evolution
2.  Seasonal changes in the structure of rhesus macaque social networks 
Social structure emerges from the patterning of interactions between individuals and plays a critical role in shaping some of the main characteristics of animal populations. The topological features of social structure, such as the extent to which individuals interact in clusters, can influence many biologically important factors, including the persistence of cooperation, and the rate of spread of disease. Yet the extent to which social structure topology fluctuates over relatively short periods of time in relation to social, demographic or environmental events remains unclear. Here, we use social network analysis to examine seasonal changes in the topology of social structures that emerge from socio-positive associations in adult female rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta). Behavioral data for two different association types (grooming, spatial proximity) were collected for females in two free-ranging groups during two seasons: the mating and birth seasons. Stronger dyadic bonds resulted in social structures that were more tightly connected (i.e. of greater density) in the mating season compared to the birth season. Social structures were also more centralized around a subset of individuals, and were more clustered in the mating season than the birth season, although the latter differences were mostly driven by differences in density alone. Our results suggest a degree of temporal variation in the topological features of social structure in this population. Such variation may feed back on interactions, hence affecting the behaviors of individuals, and may therefore be important to take into account in studies of animal behavior.
PMCID: PMC3613995  PMID: 23565026
social structure; social network analysis; network topology; rhesus macaques
3.  Social network analysis in the study of nonhuman primates: A historical perspective 
American journal of primatology  2011;73(8):720-730.
Advances over the last fifteen years have made social network analysis (SNA) a powerful tool for the study of nonhuman primate social behavior. Although many SNA-based techniques have been only very recently adopted in primatological research, others have been commonly used by primatologists for decades. The roots of SNA also stem from some of the same conceptual frameworks as the majority of nonhuman primate behavioral research. The rapid development of SNA in recent years has led to questions within the primatological community of where and how SNA fits within this field. We aim to address these questions by providing an overview of the historical relationship between SNA and the study of nonhuman primates. We begin with a brief history of the development of SNA, followed by a detailed description of the network-based visualization techniques, analytical methods and conceptual frameworks which have been employed by primatologists since as early as the 1960s. We also introduce some of the latest advances to SNA, thereby demonstrating that this approach contains novel tools for study of nonhuman primate social behavior which may be used to shed light on questions that cannot be addressed fully using more conventional methods.
PMCID: PMC3121897  PMID: 21433047
social network analysis; social behavior; social structure; history of primatology
Coalitionary aggression occurs when at least two individuals jointly direct aggression at one or more conspecific targets. Scientists have long argued that this common form of cooperation has positive fitness consequences. Nevertheless, despite evidence that social bond strength (which is thought to promote coalition formation) is correlated with fitness in primates, cetaceans, and ungulates, few studies have directly examined whether coalitionary aggression improves reproductive success. We tested the hypothesis that among free-ranging chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii), participation in coalitionary aggression increases reproductive output. Using 14 years of genetic and behavioral data from Gombe National Park, Tanzania, we found that coalitionary aggression increased a male’s chances of A) siring offspring, compared to other males of similar dominance rank, and B) ascending in rank, a correlate of future reproductive output. Because male chimpanzees form coalitions with many others within a complex network, we used social network analysis to identify the types of connections correlated with these fitness benefits. The beneficiaries of coalitionary aggression were males with the highest ‘betweenness’ – that is, those who tended to have coalition partners who themselves did not form coalitions with each other. This suggests that beyond simply recognizing third-party relationships, chimpanzees may use this knowledge to choose coalition partners. If so, this is a significant step forward in our knowledge of the adaptive value of social intelligence. Regardless of mechanism, however, this is the first evidence of genetic benefits of coalitionary aggression in this species, and therefore has important implications for understanding the evolution of cooperation.
PMCID: PMC3582680  PMID: 23459197
coalition; chimpanzee; social network analysis; cooperation; paternity; dominance rank; social bonds
5.  Response of Rhesus Macaques (Macaca mulatta) to the Body of a Group Member That Died from a Fatal Attack 
Among animals that form social bonds, the death of a conspecific may be a significant social event, representing the loss of an ally and resulting in disruptions to the dominance hierarchy. Despite this potential biological importance, we have only limited knowledge of animals' reactions to the death of a group member. This is particularly true of responses to dead adults, as most reports describe the responses of mothers to dead infants. Here, we describe in detail and provide video evidence of the behavioral responses of a group of free-ranging rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) immediately after the death of a mid-ranking adult male as a result of a fatal attack. High-ranking male members of the group, suspected to have carried out the attack, dragged and bit the dead body, exhibiting a rate of aggression 20 times greater than baseline levels. Lower-ranking individuals approached and inspected the body by looking closely, smelling, and grooming the fur. There was inconclusive evidence that these rhesus macaques found the death of a conspecific stressful: Levels of grooming between group members after the fatal attack were significantly higher than baseline levels, and higher than levels of grooming after nonfatal attacks. However, when grooming levels were adjusted based on the assumption that individuals positioned close to the body, i.e., those visible to researchers, were more likely to be engaged in grooming than those positioned farther away, this difference from baseline was no longer significant. The rate of self-directed behaviors after the fatal attack was also not different from baseline. Many of the behaviors we observed directed toward the body (aggression, inspection) have been previously reported in chimpanzees and geladas, and are similar to reactions sometimes displayed by humans. As such, this report represents a potentially valuable contribution the nascent field of nonhuman primate thanatology.
PMCID: PMC3583366  PMID: 23459587
Cognition; Death; Grooming; Stress; Thanatology
6.  Genetic origins of social networks in rhesus macaques 
Scientific Reports  2013;3:1042.
Sociality is believed to have evolved as a strategy for animals to cope with their environments. Yet the genetic basis of sociality remains unclear. Here we provide evidence that social network tendencies are heritable in a gregarious primate. The tendency for rhesus macaques, Macaca mulatta, to be tied affiliatively to others via connections mediated by their social partners - analogous to friends of friends in people - demonstrated additive genetic variance. Affiliative tendencies were predicted by genetic variation at two loci involved in serotonergic signalling, although this result did not withstand correction for multiple tests. Aggressive tendencies were also heritable and were related to reproductive output, a fitness proxy. Our findings suggest that, like humans, the skills and temperaments that shape the formation of multi-agent relationships have a genetic basis in nonhuman primates, and, as such, begin to fill the gaps in our understanding of the genetic basis of sociality.
PMCID: PMC3540398  PMID: 23304433
7.  On the evolution of the serotonin transporter linked polymorphic region (5-HTTLPR) in primates 
Some allelic variants of the serotonin transporter linked polymorphic region (5-HTTLPR) result in lower levels of expression of the serotonin transporter gene (SLC6A4). These low-expressing (LE) alleles are associated with mental-health disorders in a minority of humans that carry them. Humans are not the only primates that exhibit this polymorphism; other species, including some monkeys, also have LE and high-expressing (HE) variants of 5-HTTLPR. We propose a behavioral genetic framework to explain the adaptive evolution of this polymorphism in primates, including humans. We hypothesize that both LE and HE alleles are maintained by balancing selection in species characterized by short-term fluctuations in social competition levels. More specifically, we propose that LE carriers benefit from their hypervigilant tendencies during periods of elevated competition, whereas HE homozygotes cope best when competition levels do not deviate from the norm. Thus, both alleles have long-term benefits when competition levels tend to vary substantially over relatively short timescales within a social group. We describe this hypothesis in detail and outline a series of predictions to test it. Some of these predictions are supported by findings in the current literature, while others remain areas of future research.
PMCID: PMC3832783  PMID: 24312034
serotonin transporter gene; group living; balancing selection; humans; macaques
8.  Color signal information content and the eye of the beholder: a case study in the rhesus macaque 
Behavioral Ecology  2010;21(4):739-746.
Animal coloration has provided many classical examples of both natural and sexual selection. Methods to study color signals range from human assessment to models of receiver vision, with objective measurements commonly involving spectrometry or digital photography. However, signal assessment by a receiver is not objective but linked to receiver perception. Here, we use standardized digital photographs of female rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta) face and hindquarter regions, combined with estimates of the timing of the female fertile phase, to assess how color varies with respect to this timing. We compare objective color measures (camera sensor responses) with models of rhesus vision (retinal receptor stimulation and visual discriminability). Due to differences in spectral separation between camera sensors and rhesus receptors, camera measures overestimated color variation and underestimated luminance variation compared with rhesus macaques. Consequently, objective digital camera measurements can produce statistically significant relationships that are probably undetectable to rhesus macaques, and hence biologically irrelevant, while missing variation in the measure that may be relevant. Discrimination modeling provided results that were most meaningful (as they were directly related to receiver perception) and were easiest to relate to underlying physiology. Further, this gave new insight into the function of such signals, revealing perceptually salient signal luminance changes outside of the fertile phase that could potentially enhance paternity confusion. Our study demonstrates how, even for species with similar visual systems to humans, models of vision may provide more accurate and meaningful information on the form and function of visual signals than objective color measures do.
PMCID: PMC2892627  PMID: 22475874
color signaling; communication; receiver perception; visual discrimination threshold modeling
9.  Familiarity affects the assessment of female facial signals of fertility by free-ranging male rhesus macaques 
Animals signal their reproductive status in a range of sensory modalities. Highly social animals, such as primates, have access not only to such signals, but also to prior experience of other group members. Whether this experience affects how animals interpret reproductive signals is unknown. Here, we explore whether familiarity with a specific female affects a male's ability to assess that female's reproductive signals. We used a preferential looking procedure to assess signal discrimination in free-ranging rhesus macaques, a species in which female facial luminance covaries with reproductive status. We collected images of female faces throughout the reproductive cycle, and using faecal hormone analysis to determine ovulation, categorized images as coming from a female's pre-fertile, ovulating, or post-fertile period. We printed colour-calibrated stimuli of these faces, reproducing stimuli perceptually the same in colour and luminance to the original appearance of females. These images were presented to males who were either unfamiliar or familiar with stimuli females. Overall, males distinguished ovulatory from pre-ovulatory faces. However, a significant proportion of males did so only among males familiar with stimuli females. These experiments demonstrate that familiarity may increase a receiver's ability to use a social partner's signals to discern their reproductive status.
PMCID: PMC3177625  PMID: 21471112
familiarity; experience; cognition; reproductive signals; ovulation; discrimination

Results 1-9 (9)