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Departmental Colloquium:Baboons as a model to test the link between social systems, communication and cognition

The CEU Campus
Wednesday, May 8, 2019, 5:00 pm – 6:30 pm

Baboons as a model to test the link between social systems, communication and cognition

Julia Fischer

Cognitive Ethology Laboratory, German Primate Center, Göttingen, Germany
Department for Primate Cognition, Georg-August-University, Göttingen, Germany
Leibniz ScienceCampus Primate Cognition, Göttingen, Germany

Nonhuman primates live in highly diverse social systems, which allows us to put conjectures regarding the links between social system characteristics, cognition, and communication to a test. New data on previously neglected baboon species are substantially increasing the value of this genus for such an undertaking. I will first summarize our findings from the first decade of research on wild Guinea baboons (Papio papio), a species for which little was known before. I will then present results from studies that tap into the communication and cognition of this species, taking a comparative perspective. Guinea baboons reveal a nested multi-level social organization with high degrees of male tolerance, a lack of a clear dominance hierarchy and low degrees of aggression. Some, but not all strongly socially bonded males are highly related, and population-genetic and behavioral evidence indicate female-biased dispersal. Despite substantial differences in social organization and social structure, the structure of Guinea baboon vocal repertoires does not differ substantially from that of other baboon species; yet males have evolved elaborate greeting rituals the function and evolution of which will be discussed. Our studies of their social knowledge suggest that the value of social information varies greatly between species. Taken together, the motivational disposition appears to be more malleable during evolution than structural elements of the behavioral repertoire; furthermore, competition may indeed be a more important driver in cognitive evolution than social complexity.