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The Mellow Baboon

timothy posted more than 10 years ago | from the nature-nurture dept.

Biotech 36

obehave writes " You've seen life in a baboon troop on TV: the epitome of nasty, brutish, and short. So what happens when a baboon troop loses its nastiest, most brutish members? PLoS Biology, an open-access science journal, reports the curious story of a baboon troop which lost the nastiest half of its male population through natural causes. The troop became different and the difference persisted through a generational change. Here's the synopsis, the full article, and a commentary."

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Swings and Roundabouts - Next Chapter? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8860855)

New baboon tribe moves in next door which is composed of more violent members, which eventually forces our friendly baboon tribe to become more violent, or be wiped out.

Then we are back to the initial position again.

Of course this was the position of many Reaganites in the 1980s that the USA had gone soft on the Soviet Union, and was therefore in more danger.

Re:Swings and Roundabouts - Next Chapter? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8860941)

You sir are a BABOON!

"obligatory Simpsons remark"

Re:Swings and Roundabouts - Next Chapter? (4, Interesting)

TuringTest (533084) | more than 10 years ago | (#8861502)

But whether there would be a universal call for a rational, less violent baboon culture all over the world, and all tribes accepted it, then the overall violence of the whole baboonity would descend.

Society is not just the phenotype of a given species genetic inheritance - is a dynamic, evolving system.

Re:Swings and Roundabouts - Next Chapter? (1)

skahshah (603640) | more than 10 years ago | (#8863264)

Real baboons are tough, you banana-eating surrender monkey!

Re:Swings and Roundabouts - Next Chapter? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8863864)

You are quite right - this of course depends on whether we are dealing with a closed system or an open one - "universal calls" like you mention really need a closed system, with no outside interference.

Since the American 19th Century was like an open system, the US has very "free" laws, if you don't like something, move onto the next piece of available land and do it your way.

Europe has run out of land and favours closed models.

As the internet takes over the world I suspect the world is moving towards a global closed system - unless we discover UFOs!

Re:Swings and Roundabouts - Next Chapter? (1)

uncoveror (570620) | more than 10 years ago | (#8865089)

If these baboons were put in a zoo, would they go bezerk if a curious kid threw a rock? Normal baboons do. Read more. []

Re:Swings and Roundabouts - Next Chapter? (1)

azav (469988) | more than 10 years ago | (#8873093)

OMG! That uncoverer article is the funniest thing ever.

Wish I was there to see it... uuuhhh, wish I was able to see a video of it.

Anyone here in San Jose wanna restage this for my edification?

another theory (4, Insightful)

SmallFurryCreature (593017) | more than 10 years ago | (#8861929)

What if the stressed out females and lower ranking females defect from their aggresive leaders and join the friendly troop?

Suddenly you got 1 big friendly supportive of each other group who are not constantly stressed and so rested for any trouble and 1 small tribe with no females and constant infighting.

I remember another documentary on an ape troop. It was ruled by a male and a luitenant in a laid back kind of way. He took the top females his luitenant the lower ranking. He was basically a nice old guy. Also old but because he had a luitenant with everything to lose and nothing to gain and the support of the females he held out until finally he was overthrown by a new aggressive male.

The new male had no backing (was in fact constantly fighting with the other hopefulls) and no tact. He raped (compared to the old ruler) the females and threatned their offsping (the old males and his luitenant offspring). It didn't take long for him to end up severly wounded when the females decided enough was enough and ganged up on him. With no aid and the females protecting their young against him he barely got away with his life.

The end result was that the former luitenant now became the leader who continuened the laid back peacefull method. I think the old leader became his luitenant but note sure.

As you can tell I am not really a story teller but it did show clearly that this group choose the softer option. Not exactly democracy but certainly a peasant revolt took place here.

People put up with a lot until they come to the point where they got nothing to loose and everything to gain. Apes do migrate between groups if the group they are in becomes to dangerous for them. There are documented cases of "good" ape leaders protecting the weakest of their troop from the middle ranking. This could be seen as making sure that while their must be a pecking order you also can not afford to loose members at the bottom for fear that one day the top is the bottom.

Re:another theory (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8862054)

Chicks always go for the bad boys, not the nice guys. That's just nature for ya.

Re: New violent neighbors (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8867527)

New baboon tribe moves in next door which is composed of more violent members, which eventually forces our friendly baboon tribe to become more violent, or be wiped out.

What will really happen is that, if they can afford it, the non-violent baboons will move to the suburbs.

Re:Swings and Roundabouts - Next Chapter? (1)

barakn (641218) | more than 10 years ago | (#8873843)

Beware the baboon tribe that throws bones and worships rectangular black obelisks....

Come on, where is it? Come on, Trolls! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8860965)

Come on, Trolls? Where is a link to a nice colorful baboon Goatse?

Re:Come on, where is it? Come on, Trolls! (3, Funny)

jc42 (318812) | more than 10 years ago | (#8861127)

Nah; the trolls are busy working on comparisons with the current American administration, and wondering how to best phrase the suggestion that a similar experiment be tried in November.

Somebody's gotta have a way of phrasing this so it gets a +5 funny mod.

Maybe I'll go off and work on it ...

cool. (1, Funny)

torpor (458) | more than 10 years ago | (#8861068)

we^H^Hthey now have a justification for the creation of a master aryan baboon race.

Heh... (3, Funny)

Copperhead (187748) | more than 10 years ago | (#8861078)

Thought it said, "its nastiest, most british members". That was a weird image...

Re:Heh... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8871366)

Thought it said, "its nastiest, most british members". That was a weird image.

You wouldn't be from a commonwealth nation, would you? Many of us see britishisms as a social pox.

Yeah, well. (2, Funny)

Elwood P Dowd (16933) | more than 10 years ago | (#8861106)

I'd be a lot more relaxed if there were 50% as many men where I lived, too. Unclear whether that's still the case after their "generational change."

Re:Yeah, well. (5, Interesting)

cowens (30752) | more than 10 years ago | (#8861524)

The percentage of males is now the same as it was before the aggresive ones died off from eating bad meat taken from a nearby garbage dump. There doesn't seem to be much difference between Male-Male interaction in the Forest Troop and the Talek Troop (who live 50km away). There is a major difference in the Male-Female interactions though. Females in the Forest Troop "did not seem to treat transfer males in a contingent manner" (tended to treat them like they were already part of the tribe). And all of the baboons were groomed more often leading to a less stressful environment.

Now for my unfounded opinion:

With over fifty percent of the males dead the females of the troop had lure more males in and so they started treating newcomers nicely and made sure the males already in the troop were happy. This behaviour doesn't seem to be costing them anything so it is continuing.

Re:Yeah, well. (1)

dogfart (601976) | more than 10 years ago | (#8862206)

So if your average less-agressive slashdot denizen can figure out a way to get all the agressive males to eat lethal meat (mad cow barbecue?), it means the females would then have no choice but to bond with and mate with the surviving less-agressive slashdot-reading males?

I'm sure somewhere out there is a horny slashdot reader already dreaming up an empirical test of your "unfounded opinion"

Re:Yeah, well. (1)

Halfbaked Plan (769830) | more than 10 years ago | (#8862935)

Bad hotdogs at some lame sporting event sounds like a sure thing strategy.

Re:Yeah, well. (2, Insightful)

cowens (30752) | more than 10 years ago | (#8863218)

I'm sure somewhere out there is a horny slashdot reader already dreaming up an empirical test of your "unfounded opinion"

The downside is that it will only get them back rubs since the males aren't getting any more sex than before: "Sexual behavior did not differ between F93-96 and T93-98/F79-82."

F79-82 - Forest Troop before the death of the agressive males
F93-96 - Forest Troop 7-8 years after the death of the aggressive males
T93-98 - Talek Troop in the same time period

Re:Yeah, well. (3, Insightful)

timjdot (638909) | more than 10 years ago | (#8863495)

Interesting proposition. Will be interesting to see how things evolve in a few years. I think the general idea of partnering amongst less dominant individuals is socially what the Internet makes possible: that is, individuals (e.g. open sourcers) can now work together for common goals rather than be subservient to dominant entities. I also noticed that the human birth rate seems 1.05 M to F and assume violent physical aggression is a male trait. Surely as more mature males compete then violence will resume. Funny that TB selected the violent baboons. hmmmm. Not to mention that the produced males may have been more closely blood related to the remaining females than is typical. Contrast with lions where the incoming king typically kills all kittens: maybe baboons do not do that?
Isn't anyone else surprised that the critters have never evolved new and better fighting styles? I mean a human in a forest could within an hour create enough weapons to fight off a single baboon or two (well, maybe not a chair-bound worker from America but you get my point :-). Why haven't these critters learned anything from humans?


Re:Yeah, well. (3, Informative)

sgt101 (120604) | more than 10 years ago | (#8871832)

Isn't anyone else surprised that the critters have never evolved new and better fighting styles? I mean a human in a forest could within an hour create enough weapons to fight off a single baboon or two (well, maybe not a chair-bound worker from America but you get my point :-). Why haven't these critters learned anything from humans?

Because they are Baboons, and Baboons are not real bright.

Ok flippancy aside; no one knows is the real answer. But one theory is that the ability to figure out how to crack open long bones from scavenged out carcasses on the savannah provided the fuel for an evolutionary upward spiral; more protein = more smarts = more breeding = more smarts = more protein...

Another theory is that Humans were aquatic adapted apes (we have a lack of body hair, subcutaneous fat layer, fat distributions for floating face up, swimming ability, dive reflex all of which could be argued to be aquatic adaptations). We started eating fish and shellfish and promptly acquired smarts. Interestingly evidence indicates that fish oils can be given to children to boost their brain power, and can be given to prisoners to boost their problem solving and social skills! Also interesting is the fact that humans seem to only like raw fish and shell fish amongst raw meats Kobe Beef aside??? Unfortunately there is not a shred of archaeological evidence to support these ideas, and some people argue that the so called aquatic adaptations are't really aquatic in nature and just a co-incidence (still remember the baby on the front of Nevermind - it looked pretty adapted!)

Finally the most prosaic theory is that standing upright enabled superior brain cooling (I kid you not) and thus enabled big brains for all.

But as I say, anyone who knows says nothing - as they were there, and they are dead!

Summary? (1)

FattMattP (86246) | more than 10 years ago | (#8861316)

You've seen life in a baboon troop on TV
I can't say that I have. How about a summary of what a baboon troop is?

Re:Summary? (4, Insightful)

Elwood P Dowd (16933) | more than 10 years ago | (#8861734)

Baboons are more aggressive than most primates. They're larger and stronger than chimps, but chimps can team up to kill a larger baboon. Baboons are quadrapedal, and based on the TV I've watched, they mostly stick to the ground. I've seen them in trees fighting chimps.

I don't know what their social structure is exactly like, although apparently it's groups that include multiple males, females, and offspring. I don't know if they send adolescent males to other troupes, which happens with some primates.

Baboons look like this [] . Big teeth. Mean. Chimps, technically, are just as mean. But they look like they're nicer.

Chimps -> Baboons


Humans -> Klingons


Re:Summary? (2, Informative)

PateraSilk (668445) | more than 10 years ago | (#8861947)

Actually, baboons are a little smaller than chimps:

Baboon []

Chimp []

Although the big males of the troop are pretty big, they're still 7 kg smaller than big male chimps.

I still wouldn't wanna mess with one, though.

As far as I remember they don't "send" them (4, Informative)

SmallFurryCreature (593017) | more than 10 years ago | (#8862053)

Live as a low ranking male just isn't much fun. So if the current leader is in his prime and there are a couple of other hopefulls, it might just be wiser to try to get into an other group where the leadership is a bit past it and the competition is a bit less.

Baboons are far better predators then chimps. Basically baboons are a top predator. Meaning they eat and are not eaten.

Chimps are predators as well but more human. Meaning a while group of chimps can catch one small monkey but they do it by teamwork.

If you are in africa and you encounter a chimp the chimp will run. if you are in africa and you encounter a baboon you better hope it ain't hungry or pissed off.

Re:As far as I remember they don't "send" them (3, Informative)

Bothari (34939) | more than 10 years ago | (#8867194)

Basically baboons are a top predator. Meaning they eat and are not eaten

Almost but not quite: any large cat will attack and eat a baboon if given half a chance. Some Leopards specialize in them, actually. It is not a completly safe meal and there are reports of stalking leopards getting killed by their prey.

Lions, however, are no contest ...

Actually... (1)

FlyingOrca (747207) | more than 10 years ago | (#8863724)

Humans -> Reality


Klingons -> Fiction ...but nice try. ;-)

Re:Summary? (1)

Petrol (18446) | more than 10 years ago | (#8938881)

I'm being completely serious here.

I recall reading (maybe in Discover) that Baboon social structure and Human social structure in a business office are remarkably similar. Knowing this and using the knowledge indaily application can be quite handy.

so, to revise your diagram:

Chimps-> Baboons-> Office Workers

Stuart Whitman movie (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8862616)

Sands of the Kalahari []


/.ed - here's the text of the synopsis (0, Redundant)

MammaMia (764083) | more than 10 years ago | (#8862539)

For most animal species, behavioral attributes are largely the product of interactions between genes and environment, with behavioral patterns preserved by natural selection. Birds, for example, know instinctively what type of nest to build for their offspring; salamanders don't need lessons to swim. But when it comes to primates--including humans--a good deal of behavior is learned. Primates exhibit a wide range of behaviors, not just among species but also among populations and even individuals. Yet the nature versus nurture debate still rages, particularly when it comes to understanding the roots of aggression. While bonobos are famous for using sex to resolve disputes, aggression is far more common in most primate species--again humans included. Our closest relative, the chimpanzee, has a reputation for being among the most belligerent, with rhesus monkeys and baboons not far behind. For many of these species, bouts of violence are often followed by gestures of reconciliation, such as grooming or, in the case of chimps, kissing. Since most primates live in social groups, it may be that such conciliatory measures serve to maintain some semblance of social structure, offsetting the disruptive effects of aggression. (To learn more about primate behavior and aggression, see the primer by Frans de Waal in this issue [DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.0020101].)

In baboons, "grooming" is a socially rewarding behavior. (Photograph, with permission, by Robert Sapolsky)
Primatologists characterize these behavioral differences as "cultural" traits, since they arise independent of genetic or environmental factors and are not only shared by a population (though not necessarily a species) but are also passed on to succeeding generations. Such cultural traditions have been documented in African chimp populations, which display over 39 behaviors related to "technology" (such as using stones to crack nuts), grooming, and courtship. While most of these cases involve either tools, foraging, or communication, Robert Sapolsky and Lisa Share report evidence of a higher order cultural tradition in wild baboons in Kenya. Rooted in field observations of a group of olive baboons (called the Forest Troop) since 1978, Sapolsky and Share document the emergence of a unique culture affecting the "overall structure and social atmosphere" of the troop.

In his book A Primate's Memoir, Sapolsky studied the activities and lifestyle of the Forest Troop to explore the relationship between stress and disease. In typical baboon fashion, the males behaved badly, angling either to assume or maintain dominance with higher ranking males or engaging in bloody battles with lower ranking males, which often tried to overthrow the top baboon by striking tentative alliances with fellow underlings. Females were often harassed and attacked. Internecine feuds were routine. Through a heartbreaking twist of fate, the most aggressive males in the Forest Troop were wiped out. The males, which had taken to foraging in an open garbage pit adjacent to a tourist lodge, had contracted bovine tuberculosis, and most died between 1983 and 1986. Their deaths drastically changed the gender composition of the troop, more than doubling the ratio of females to males, and by 1986 troop behavior had changed considerably as well; males were significantly less aggressive.

After the deaths, Sapolsky stopped observing the Forest Troop until 1993. Surprisingly, even though no adult males from the 1983-1986 period remained in the Forest Troop in 1993 (males migrate after puberty), the new males exhibited the less aggressive behavior of their predecessors. Around this time, Sapolsky and Share also began observing another troop, called the Talek Troop. The Talek Troop, along with the pre-TB Forest Troop, served as controls for comparing the behavior of the post-1993 Forest Troop. The authors found that while in some respects male to male dominance behaviors and patterns of aggression were similar in both the Forest and control troops, there were differences that significantly reduced stress for low ranking males, which were far better tolerated by dominant males than were their counterparts in the control troops. The males in the Forest Troop also displayed more grooming behavior, an activity that's decidedly less stressful than fighting. Analyzing blood samples from the different troops, Sapolsky and Share found that the Forest Troop males lacked the distinctive physiological markers of stress, such as elevated levels of stress-induced hormones, seen in the control troops.

In light of these observations, the authors investigated various models that might explain how the Forest Troop preserved this (relatively) peaceful lifestyle, complete with underlying physiological changes. One model suggests that nonhuman primates acquire cultural traits through observation. Young chimps may learn how to crack nuts with stones by watching their elders, for example. In this case, the young baboon transplants might learn that it pays to be nice by watching the interactions of older males in their new troop. Or it could be that proximity to such behavior increases the likelihood that the new males will adopt the behavior. Yet another explanation could be that males in troops with such a high proportion of females become less aggressive because they don't need to fight as much for female attention and are perhaps rewarded for good behavior. But it could be that the females had a more direct impact: new male transfers in the Forest Troop were far better received by resident females than new males in the other troops.

Sapolsky and Share conclude that the method of transmission is likely either one or a combination of these models, though teasing out the mechanisms for such complex behaviors will require future study. But if aggressive behavior in baboons does have a cultural rather than a biological foundation, perhaps there's hope for us as well.

Peccatus originalis (2, Funny)

aminorex (141494) | more than 10 years ago | (#8863678)

When my beautiful, brilliant, charming daughter
was born, I finally realized the meaning of
Hobbes' phrase "nasty, brutish, and short".

Of course she wasn't beautiful at the start.
She was bloody, slimy, and looked like Winston
Churchill. But I'm told they all do.

someone has to say.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8864038)

I, for one, welcome our new peaceful baboon overlords.

What wine goes best with banana leaves? (1)

Zode (102995) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864509)

It's the evolution of the metrosexual!

At last... (2, Insightful)

MrNonchalant (767683) | more than 10 years ago | (#8879623)

Semi-scientific support for mass exterminating jerks.
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